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Newtown Teachers Want Big And Small Security Fixes

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Newtown sign. Photo by WTIC's Matt Dwyer.

Newtown sign. Photo by WTIC’s Matt Dwyer.

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By SUSAN HAIGH
Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Some Newtown teachers remain frightened after last month’s deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School and want to make sure steps both large and small are taken to better secure their schools and others across Connecticut.

Thomas Kuroski, president of the Newtown Federation of Teachers, said some of the issues may seem minor, such as making sure classroom doors can be locked from the inside. But after what Newtown’s teachers have experienced, he said such issues have become large.

“Because we were ground zero here, there is going to be a heightened awareness of security concerns, which is going to lead to a sense of vulnerability which might trump what some other district might have with security issues,” Kuroski told The Associated Press. He appeared Friday at a public hearing held by the legislative working group charged with reviewing school safety following the Dec. 14 shooting, which left 20 first graders and six educators dead.

Kuroski suggested that the General Assembly create some kind of an oversight committee, possibly within the Department of Education, that could visit school districts across the state, review and assess their security plans, determine whether they’re meeting a baseline, help them craft security plans based on the particular needs of their district, and provide funding to help pay for improvements.

“You can’t throw the same blanket over every single school and say it fits,” he said.

The legislative working group and two others _ one on mental health and one on gun violence prevention _ have until Feb. 15 to forward recommendations for legislation to the General Assembly. Members have been urged to try to reach as much consensus as possible.

Kuroski and other advocates for educators asked state lawmakers not to try to turn schools into fortresses because a facility like Sandy Hook _ which had a buzz-in system and a principal who regularly conducted lockdown drills _ was attacked. Karissa Niehoff, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Schools, said the principals and vice presidents her group represents want to make sure schools remain special, nurturing places to learn and socialize.

“They very much want to balance security with a culture of warmth and welcome,” she said.

There were also proposals on Friday to fund more school resource officers, typically armed and uniformed local police officers; provide more funding for school psychologists, social workers and counselors; and provide additional funding for security upgrades that are not at the expense of other state education aid.

In Newtown, steps are under way to beef up security at all seven schools. Enough high-tech security equipment has been donated to overhaul the former Chalk Hill school in Monroe where the Sandy Hook students are now attending, as well as the other Newtown schools. Kuroski, who was recently appointed to a district-wide security committee, said he believes many of his fellow teachers’ concerns have already been addressed or eventually will be addressed.

But in the meantime, Kuroski said Newtown teachers are experiencing a range of emotions since the shooting.

“You have teachers who are ready to hit the ground running the next day and you have teachers who are confused and not sure how to feel and then you have teachers who are very, very scared and are not comfortable in that environment,” said Kuroski, who met with every teacher after the massacre to check on their well-being.

The typical sounds of a busy school day, such as lockers and doors slamming and books falling off desks, now spark reactions that never would happened before.

“People are jumping. People are always on the verge of being upset,” Kuroski said, adding that most teachers want the two police officers who’ve been assigned to every Newtown school since the shooting to remain there indefinitely.

Kuroski said some Sandy Hook teachers have not yet returned to work, but he didn’t know how many. Others who came back felt they needed to take time off. Throughout the district, he said, there is “a sense of sadness that we’ve lost what we used to have in this district,” which is known for having well-performing schools.

“We’re not the same anymore,” he said.

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