By Lisa Capobianco
After the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School left 20 children and six educators dead on December 14, 2012, the Southington school district implemented additional security measures to enhance safety throughout the district in response to the tragedy.
Brian Goralski, the chairman of the Board of Education, said board members have worked collaboratively to improve communication with parents, town and law enforcement officials as well as to update safety practices, procedures and door safety. Although he could not explain the improvements in full detail, Goralski said overall, the district has improved cameras and door security with the help of the advice from the Southington Police Department. Officers have also conducted more patrols in the schools, looking out for suspicious behavior and red flags.
“The safety of our schools will be the number one priority for the Board of Education,” Goralski said.
For the Southington Police Department, improving communication with the school district has served as a major priority in response to the Newtown tragedy. Although their response plan has remained the same in the event of an emergency, officers have increased their level of interactions with faculty members and students during their patrols every morning and afternoon five days a week. Lieutenant Mike Baribault said each officer is assigned to a particular school to patrol during a shift, and by doing so, takes the time to address concerns, observes any red flags, and gets to know students and faculty members.
“They can tell if something is out of place,” Lt. Baribault said.
Southington Supt. Dr. Joseph Erardi added that police and fire officials have maps of every school as well as keys to enter the schools in the event of an emergency. He said improving communication with local officials serves as just one way the school district has enhanced school safety in response to the Newtown tragedy. Dr. Erardi explained that in the past year, the district has established a parent-safety advisory committee to receive input from families about improving school safety. Although he could not explain the improvements in specific details, Dr. Erardi also said that the Board of Education and the Board of Finance established a “sustainable” safety plan for the school year, which focused on enhancing technology, so safety officials could respond in less time and taking measures to keep the perpetrator away from faculty and students for a longer period of time.
“We have shatter-proofed a number of our buildings,” Dr. Erardi said.
The Southington school district has also received help from the state. Governor Dannel Malloy recently announced in a press release that Southington will receive $90,183 in grants to fund security measures in the schools. The town was one of 435 schools to receive the second round of funds as part of the School Security Grant Program, which stems from the Gun Violence Prevention and Children’s Safety Act. With the second round of grants, Connecticut has allocated a total of $21 million to the school security grant program.
In the first round of grants, Southington received $3,459 from the state. That grant money will help implement security measures at ALTA, including a walkie-talkie system that will allow the director to speak directly with Dr. Erardi during an emergency.
Although he feels proud of the way the district responded to school safety after the Newtown tragedy, Dr. Erardi said he plans to continue improving security in the district.
“We always need improvement,” Dr. Erardi said. “The work is never finished.”
By Lisa Capobianco