By KAITLYN NAPLES
The Plainville school district now has the apporval to move forward with making its schools safer.
In January, Superintendent of School Jeffrey Kitching presented the Board of Education with possible safety improvements and funds needed to move forward. The board went ahead and approved asking the council to reallocate funds that were meant to go to the replacement of a cooling tower, to go towards upgrades in school safety. There are two upgrades that need to be made regarding safety: a new radio system to increase communication, and an upgrade of the software for the door locks at the schools.
The board requested that $80,000, which was meant to go towards the cooling tower, be transferred to the security improvement project, which the council approved. The remaining balance, a little over $26,000, would need to come from the undesignated fund balance. However, the board recently received an insurance payment of the same amount needed, which has already been deposited into the general fund and can be made available for the project, Town Manager Robert Lee told the council at a meeting last month.
The council held a public hearing earlier this month before approving the appropriation, and speakers were in favor of moving the funds, especially since it will be going towards the safety of the children and staff in the schools. The council approved the appropriation.
The district hired a consultant, Jennings Smith Investigations, to conduct an audit of the district and every school to see what was needed to enhance safety.
Kitching said at a board meeting in January that the district was already in the process of discussing safety plans in place and where to go next in regards of upgrading the level of security last November. About a month later, the shooting at a Newtown elementary school happened, which alerted school administrators in the entire state, and the nation, they needed to be proactive in ensuring nothing like that happens again.
“We have an outstanding plan in place already, but now we are focusing on what we lack, and are working on a more district-wide collaborative effort,” and collaborating with police and other first responders, Kitching told the board in January.
The funds appropriated will cover the recommendations made by the consultant, Lee said, however the town can’t predict any state or federal mandates that may come up in the future regarding safety regulations.
At its meeting last week, the Board of Education also approved a new policy that would allow the use of a breathalyzer at school events, for students who are suspected to be intoxicated.
Plainville High School Principal Steven LePage brought up the new policy at the board’s January meeting, and he said he had spoken with several students who were “shocked” to hear peers were showing up at school dances, intoxicated.
LePage said at the board meeting he has spoken with the board’s attorney, school staff and other students and has received positive feedback.
The breathalyzer would only be used when there is “reasonable suspicion that a student is under the influence or has used alcohol” at or before a school-sponsored event, like prom, dances or sporting events. Students will not be tested in public, but will be taken to a separate room where the student will be asked to be tested with a “passive alcohol sensor device.” If the student fails the test, he or she will have 15 minutes to confirm or deny any use of alcohol, and then the PAS will be re-administered. If the student does not pass that test, he or she will be asked to take an active breathalyzer test. If the student tests negative for alcohol, no action will be taken. The policy said if the student declines to take the screening when there is reasonable suspicion, he or she will be subject to appropriate disciplinary action.
Reasons for suspicion, according to the policy, include: “observer use or possession or alcohol; odor of an alcoholic beverage or the presence of an alcohol container; marked changes in personal behavior not attributable to other factors; slurred speech, unsteady gait (steps), lack of coordinator, bloodshot or glazed eyes; behavior that is risky, aggressive or disruptive.”
Parents and students will be notified, if the policy is fully approved, that these instruments may be used at school functions.
Suspicionless testing will also be allowed under the new policy, however students will be notified prior to the event or school sponsored activity that one of the devices may be used, “and that they may be denied entry and/or removed from the event or activity” for refusing to be tested.