One year following Sandy Hook: Are schools safe?

It has been almost one year since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which left 20 children and six adults dead. Before the devastating incident of Dec. 14, 2012, Plainville Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Kitching said the district had already began its independent study of the current safety measures and precautions and was working to develop a new emergency concept with consultants.
About one month ago, that emergency concept was finalized. In just under one year, the Plainville Community School district was able to complete the recommended upgrades to its safety plan.
“The report was really positive in the first place; we were in really good shape,” Kitching said, adding that the district made upgrades and changes to its safety plan and systems at a cost of about $135,000. Recently, the state granted several school districts with state funding for security improvements and upgrades. Plainville was one of the districts to receive a grant which totaled $88,000, which was a reimbursement for the safety upgrades.
This round of funding was the second in the last two months and the total amount that has been granted is $21 million. The first round of funding totaled $5 million and was granted to 111 school districts and covers 604 schools in the state. The second round of funding, which is when Plainville was compensated, went to 75 school districts and covered 435 schools.
Some of the safety measures taken in Plainville included upgrading the door locks at the schools, upgrading the access system at all five schools, inserting new panic buttons in the offices at each school that link to the town’s emergency system, and upgrading the “walkie talkie” system to a digital one.
Kitching said he feels the upgrades took care of everything the district may have been lacking, and fulfilled the recommendations from the consultants. However emergency drillswith the police and fire departments are still practiced regularly so that students and staff are prepared in case of an emergency.
At the beginning of this school year, the district hired Lowell Humphrey to be the district residency officer and Plainville High School monitor. Humphrey is the former chief of police in Canton and has an extensive background in law enforcement.
Kitching said Humphrey splits his time between monitoring the halls at Plainville High School, checking doors and windows to make sure they aren’t propped open, and conversing with students and staff. He also is working on residency issues where students who are attending the public schools may not actually live in town.
“It’s going very well,” Kitching said regarding both duties assigned to Humphrey, as well as his performance.
Lt. Eric Peterson from the Plainville Police Department said the department, fire department, and the schools worked closely together to update their policies and procedures for emergencies. One of the biggest undertakings was updating the communications system between the police and each school, which now include live security.
Earlier this year, the police department applied for a grant to fund two school resource officers. However, Plainville was not awarded the funding. Peterson said that will not stop the department from trying to bringing at least one resource officer in the future to split his or her time between the middle and high schools.
For the first time, the department recently held an “active shooter training” session at the old Linden Street School. Six officers participated and learned how to react to this kind of emergency.
“We will go over things like how to clear a stairwell or approach a classroom (and more),” he said.
The department, Peterson said, would like to be able to hold these trainings more frequently but they are costly. He said the department hopes to hold these kinds of trainings a few times each year, while keeping the costs within the budget.
“These are very important to have,” he said of the training opportunities, adding the police department is going to try to put more money into its budget so it can have frequent trainings to be as prepared as possible for emergencies.
The schools and police and fire departments try to hold planned drills every quarter. The police officers also take part in various recertification classes and training sessions regionally regarding how to react to various situations and how to prevent them.