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New Canaan ahead of curve with school security

Published 10:23 am, Sunday, July 14, 2013
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New laws passed during the latest session of the state Legislature have area school leaders poised to amend their policies to meet new directives.

New gun laws, passed in the wake of the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, have more policy implications than others, according to Vincent Mustaro, policy expert for the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education.

"What came out of the aftermath of Newtown are a number of changes in policies pertaining to safety and security that will need updating," he said.

Mustaro is completing an analysis of the new laws and will propose related policy changes at the end of the month to the school districts that subscribe to CABE's service.

"One of them is the requirement that anyone who carries a weapon must be a local police officer or a retired member of the police," Mustaro said. "I think it's a step in the right direction. Clearly what happened after Newtown was a knee-jerk reaction that took over across the state."

That included some communities wanting to bring in armed security guards who were not trained as police.

He said for years the state has had a statute that addressed lawful police possession of a weapon in a school, but the new law is more specific.

Another change compels districts to conduct a risk-vulnerability assessment, and with the start of the 2014-15 school year annually develop and implement for each school in the district a security and safety plan based on national standards and an "all hazards" approach.

The safety plan must include a command center organization structure and requires each school employee to be trained in the new plan.

Added responsibilities will require a policy adjustment for the safe school climate committees established in 2011 as part of anti-bullying laws.

"They have beefed up the requirements for crisis drills -- both the number of them and the reporting of them," Mustaro said.

"There is more brand-new stuff in them. The Legislature continues to be very prescriptive in what it wants to see," he said, compared to years ago when school districts had more latitude.

The drills, which will be required every third month, will include parents and first responders as part of the planning. Local public safety officials will evaluate, score and provide feedback on the drills. That information will then be sent to the state.

"These are not plans that just can be put on paper. They have to be practiced with input, and there is a reporting piece as well," Mustaro said. "It's a far cry from when I was a principal and I would hold a monthly fire drill and report it to the superintendent."

While the emphasis after the Newtown shootings was to prepare for an armed intruder, the law has expanded it to other hazards.

The New Canaan school district has been active in security upgrades since shortly after Newtown.

"It's interesting. I was just reading a summary of legislation over the past week, and I was proud because so much of what was being talked about in that legislation, all those dimensions, we have in place. Last night I emailed the team saying how proud I was," Superintendent Mary Kolek said Tuesday. "I think we're in very good shape with our policies and practices to be in compliance, and I think in many ways we're a model of how you can be when you work hard and work with the town."

New Canaan has installed new locks on many of the doors of the schools, and hired five unarmed campus monitors. At the Monday evening Board of Education meeting, school administrators said they'd reviewed all procedures and protocols with assistance from New Canaan police and fire departments, both of which did walk-throughs of the schools.

The Legislature and state officials established a School Safety Infrastructure Council to develop safety infrastructure standards for school building projects, such as reinforcement of entryways, ballistic glass, solid-core doors, double-door access, computer-controlled electronic locks, remote locks on all entrances and exits and buzzer systems, cameras and other devices as they become industry standards.

Staff writer Tyler Woods contributed to this story.

eileenf@newstimes.com; 203-731-3333

twoods@bcnnew.com; 203-330-6582; @Woods_NCNews