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School Safety Topic Of Hartford Conference

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(Credit: Getty Images)

(Credit: Getty Images)

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BY Stephen Kalin, Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ School safety is “the next round” of priorities in response to the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Wednesday.

“Ultimately, safety is a local issue,” he said, “so what we have to do is really get good at working together.”

His comments came Wednesday at a public conference on school security at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford. More than 400 people who work in or around schools attended the event, inspired by the massacre that resulted in the deaths of 20 first-graders and six educators.

“We also learned other things about who we are, what we are, and how we can make our children and our families safer. That’s the next round in what we need to do,” Malloy said. “And as much of that as can be done needs to be done by September.”

Newtown First Selectman Patricia Llodra was also on hand at the conference. She talked about the risk of overreacting to the danger posed by mass school shootings.

“I am concerned, though, that our focus on making our schools safe from those outside through the use of police officers and security guards will communicate to those inside that we are in danger _ that the only way to feel safe in a school is to be protected by a person with a gun,” she said.

Llodra said she was “uncomfortable” with the idea of placing armed guards in schools. She said that the police officers stationed in every school in Newtown are necessary now but that she hopes they will not remain indefinitely.

Security expert Michael Dorn delivered the conference’s keynote address. He urged school administrators to collect and use data in crafting school security policies and to broaden their perspective beyond active shooter scenarios.

Dorn is executive director of Safe Havens International Inc., a nonprofit campus safety organization that was hired recently to conduct a security assessment of Danbury schools.

He based his recommendations on thousands of such assessments and hundreds of interviews with education and security professionals around the world. He suggested that schools make decisions based on trends, surveys and incident data.

“Are you measuring, or are you assuming?” he said.

Dorn’s presentation highlighted dozens of incidents of violence in schools around the world and as far back as the 18th century. He said that schools must “train for all the possibilities, not just the ones that frighten us the most.”

Dorn stressed that because school violence is not new or unique, it can be minimized by data-driven strategies. He called on schools to collect data on bullying, gang activity, drugs and violence, and to use pattern-matching and recognition techniques to determine appropriate security procedures.

Dorn also highlighted the role of culture and climate in ensuring school safety. By focusing only on raw security, he said, “you could take a school and turn it into a prison.”

“Or you could use everything I just showed you and create a welcoming climate, if you maintain dignity, honor and respect,” he said.

Thomas Pentalow, assistant director of security for Hartford schools, attended the conference and said Dorn’s message resonated with him.

“All of these techniques that he’s teaching today are changing our mindset,” he said.

The conference was organized by the capitol Regional Education Council, a nonprofit organization that runs 19 magnet schools in the Hartford area. Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra and Connecticut State Police Lt. Paul Vance also delivered brief remarks.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)    

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