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School Safety Panel Urged to Require Classroom Locks

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File photo of a demonstration honoring the lives of those lost in the shooting in Newtown, Conn. (credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

File photo of a demonstration honoring the lives of those lost in the shooting in Newtown, Conn. (credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

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By SUSAN HAIGH
Associated Press

NEW BRITAIN, Conn. (AP) _ A board reviewing school security standards following the Newtown massacre was urged Thursday evening to keep it simple and focus on requiring classroom door locks and communication devices.

“Every teacher must be armed with the most basic defense,” Ron Chivinski, a Newtown Middle School teacher and union leader told members of the School Safety Infrastructure Council during a meeting held at New Britain High School.

Chivinski suggested the doors to school classrooms be retrofitted with locks that can be used from both the inside and outside, allowing a teacher to lock down a classroom without opening the door to a hallway where an intruder may be present.

Jeff Leake, vice president of the Connecticut Education Association, said teachers in his union have said it’s important for them to know what’s going on inside their school and how there should be a good way to inform teachers of an intruder without alarming students. He said some schools use special lighting as a notification system.

Thursday’s hearing at New Britain High School marked the council’s fourth meeting. It was the first one held to gather input from people who spend much of their time inside schools.

Department of Administrative Services Commissioner Donald DeFronzo, the panel chairman, said the safety and security standards the group ultimately recommends will be applied to new school construction as well as renovations and retrofits of existing buildings.

DeFronzo said the recommendations ultimately will be costly and the panel wants to make sure that any standards it recommends or requires will be effective. Connecticut has about 1,300 public schools, and the state currently spends about $500 million to $600 million a year on school construction and renovation, which amounts to about 30 projects.

But even the new door locks suggested by Chivinski and others could be an expensive proposition.

“We’re not talking about going down to Home Depot and buying a $25 (door lock),” said Richard Camelich Jr., superintendent of Regional School District 7. He said they could cost hundreds of dollars per door.

The council has until Jan. 1 to recommend to several state agencies and legislative committees new standards to improve or enhance security and safety in Connecticut schools. The council was created by legislation passed after the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which left 20 first graders and six educators dead.

Several speakers Thursday recommended the council come up with broad suggestions for improving school safety and leave the details to the districts.

“I don’t believe that it is a one-size-fits all kind of thing,” said Camelich. “The state can provide the skeleton for a lot of these things which we can work off.”

Members are examining various safety measures, including the feasibility of reinforcing entryways and using ballistic glass, solid core doors, computer-controlled electronic locks and buzzer systems. The group also is looking into using security cameras on school grounds.

Besides DeFronzo, the panel includes other state commissioners, an expert in building security, a professional engineer, a public school administrator, a firefighter, a school resource officer and a teacher. The group has heard from experts in design and school construction. Another meeting is being planned to include members of the public and first responders.

In past reviews of school safety, experts have told lawmakers and others there was nothing that could have fully prevented Adam Lanza, the Newtown shooter, from blasting his way into the building. But they’ve stressed the importance of trying to slow down an intruder. Lanza killed his mother at their home before assaulting the school then killing himself.

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