NEW BRITAIN - Following the shooting massacre at a high school in Parkland, Florida in February, the New Britain school district, along with many others nationwide, are reassessing school security and safety measures.
As in the days following the Sandy Hook school slayings, there have also been calls for tighter school security including adding armed officers, bullet proof glass and metal detectors at public school buildings.
But perhaps the most divisive security proposal has come from President Donald Trump who suggested allowing trained teachers to carry concealed weapons in the classroom.
When asked about her thoughts on the president’s suggestion, Schools Superintendent Nancy Sarra declined to comment - instead laying out other security measures at schools in the city.
“In response to the increase in school violence nationwide, we have increased our vigilance in our schools and have established a staff critical/violence incident training for all CSDNB staff,” Sarra said in a statement Thursday. “We are working closely with the New Britain Police Department to ensure continuity in safety measures and protocols between the schools and the police department.”
Many legislators and educational leaders in Connecticut say Trump’s proposal to arm teachers shouldn’t even be considered.
“I think it’s a horrible idea,” said Sal Escobales, president of the American Federation of Teachers Local 871, which represents teachers in New Britain.
Before becoming a teacher, Escobales was a military police officer for seven years. He said he went through extensive training for his duties. Becoming skilled with a firearm isn’t something that happens in a weekend, he noted.
“The training was extensive - just to make you an effective baseline military police officer, not even mentioning some of the really specialized training you can get like close-quarters training and all those other things,” Escobales said. “To sit here and say ‘Yeah, we should arm a teacher as a deterrent,’ I think is very shortsighted and quite ignorant.”
In addition to initial training, Escobales said being apt with a gun also requires lots of practice and quick reactions. The fact that you’re carrying a gun doesn’t necessarily make you effective, the union president explained.
Escobales said members of the teachers’ union who have talked to him, even those who support the Second Amendment, don’t like the idea of arming teachers.
Escobales said a multifaceted plan of gun control and increased support for mental health are ways the country needs to address mass shootings, not arming teachers.
“What kind of message does that send when you’re side-arming teachers in a classroom, and how does that look to the kids?” Escobales said. “The same kid whose supposed to come to you and see you as somebody safe and somebody whose very well put together emotionally and mentally, and all of a sudden you’re standing there in the front of the room and you’ve got a weapon in your hand. It changes the nature of what we’re supposed to do in the school.”
Members of the statewide Connecticut Carry Defense League have a different opinion.
“Arming teachers is a narrow perspective on what we are trying to get to,” said Scott Wilson, president of CCDL. “The fact that we have gun free zones is troubling throughout the country.”
Wilson pointed to churches, schools and theaters that are gun free zones where mass shootings have occurred.
“Gun free zones are not the solution,” he said. “We need to look at what can be done to maniacs out of schools. We do not want to look at the fact that if there were legally trained responsible adults who want to carry at school, they should be able to.”
Wilson described a teacher being able to protect her 20 students with a gun if an assailant enters the classroom.
“If we have that person able to stop unimpeded murder, why is that so bad?” Wilson asked.
The Connecticut Education Association, an organization that advocates for educational support at the legislative level, said it does not endorse arming teachers.
“Teachers must focus on educating students. Asking teachers to be armed, paramilitary operatives as a result of the inability of Congress to pass gun violence prevention legislation is madness,” CEA President Sheila Cohen said of the idea. “We place enough mandates on our teachers – Congress needs to take action to keep our schools safe.”
In a press conference in Hartford last week, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., spoke out against the idea of arming teachers.
“Arming teachers is half-cocked, hare-brained, toxic lunacy,” Blumenthal said.
Sarra said administrators have held meetings assessing the district’s current safety practices while making needed changes along the way. In addition to the district’s current protocol, new safety measures include:
A New Britain Police Officer met with each administrator to assess the physical structures with an eye on increased safety. Together, they reviewed current safety procedures and discussed best practices in case of emergency. Feedback from the walkthroughs is being compiled and addressed as highest priority.
All staff will receive comprehensive critical/violent incident training over the next few months beginning on March 14. This updated approach to safety will better prepare staff to respond to an active violent situation.
A mass text message service will be launched on March 7. This will allow parents and staff to opt in to the school system’s text messaging service and receive notifications straight to their phone.
An anonymous online portal has been developed as a way for families, students, and staff to communicate suspicious activity. The portal hasn’t launched yet, but it can soon be found by visiting www.csdnb.org .
“Knowledge and skill create safer environments for everyone. Our goal is to provide the safest environment possible for all of our staff and students,” Sarra said. “We will continue to review our safety procedures and we will continue with proactive social emotional supports for all of our students.”
Lisa Backus contributed to this story.
Skyler Frazer can be reached at 860-801-5087 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.