School Climate & Safety

Schools in Newtown Closed; Elsewhere Security Reviewed, Ramped Up

By Nirvi Shah — December 16, 2012 4 min read
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Schools in Newtown, Conn., will be closed Monday, following Friday’s horrific killings of 20 of the district’s 1st graders and six of its employees at Sandy Hook School.

A neighboring school district, Monroe, has offered an unused campus for when classes resume for surviving Sandy Hook students. The former middle school was closed last year to save money.

Meanwhile, schools across Connecticut and the nation are reviewing school security measures and beefing up safety precautions. Earlier Sunday, Connecticut state police Lt. J. Paul Vance said all school safety plans are being re-examined in anticipation of classes resuming across the state Monday.

“State police, local police, leaders in school systems are doing everything they can to make sure schools are safe,” Vance said.

In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry has asked for a similar review.

Superintendents nationwide offered the same promises to parents via emails and other messages, adding that they will also be prepared to meet the emotional needs of students, many of whom have been steeping in the coverage of the killings for three days now.

For example, East Lansing, Mich., Superintendent David B. Chapin said in a message that “my intent with this mailing is to assure you we will be working with increased focus next week and beyond to address the emotional comfort and physical safety of your children.”

He said personnel from the East Lansing Police Department will walk through each school building in the 3,500-student district every day next week and police presence before and after school will be increased.

In Hillsborough County, Fla., schools, the 200,000-student district said Tampa police and school security officers are expected to be more present at schools—especially elementary schools—on Monday. School security forces will do the same. And the head of the district’s psychological services department has shared tips with principals and prepared school psychologists to respond, if necessary.

In an email, Jack Dale, the superintendent of the 182,000-student Fairfax County Public Schools just outside Washington, said police will increase patrols and visibility this week “not in response to any specific threat but rather a police initiative to enhance safety and security around the schools and to help alleviate the understandably high levels of anxiety.”

Sandy Hook’s Security

The security system at Sandy Hook—a buzzer at the front door accompanied by a camera that required visitors to be approved to enter the school—wouldn’t have kept suspected shooter Adam Lanza from entering the school, said Ken Trump, the president of National School Safety and Security Services, a Cleveland, Ohio-based company that advises districts.

Police said he shot his way into the school with a powerful rifle, the weapon he used to kill all 26 victims at Sandy Hook before using a handgun to kill himself.

The system is particularly common at elementary schools, where outside intruders, parental disputes, or other external threats are often more of a threat than fighting and other behavior issues caused by students. The devices have their flaws, such as one visitor piggybacking on another without the school’s knowledge, but they are a deterrent nevertheless.

But it may have bought the school precious seconds that reduced the carnage, Trump said, because he wasn’t able to walk right into the school.

“Every single second counts,” he said.

President Speaks at Newtown High

President Barack Obama, who was in tears when he addressed the nation over the killings Friday, traveled to Connecticut today to comfort families and first responders in person. A ceremony including prayers representing several faiths drew more people than the auditorium at Newtown High could hold.

Before the event began, Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut spoke briefly about the idea of a violence commission idea he floated on the Sunday morning news shows.

“I’m always reluctant about commissions, but I really believe we ought to have a national commission on violence,” Lieberman said to reporters traveling with the president. “These events are happening more frequently and I worry that if we don’t take a thoughtful look at them, we’re going to lose the hurt and the anger that we have now.”

Earlier, Obama had said the nation will have to come together and take “meaningful action” to prevent similar tragedies, “regardless of the politics.”

At the gathering at the high school, he fortified that message.

“We cannot tolerate this anymore,” he said. “These tragedies must end, and to end them, we must change.”

Earlier, former U.S. Education Secretary William J. Bennett and other politicians said one way the nation could change is by arming school employees.

Photo: Residents wait for the start of an interfaith vigil for the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on Sunday at Newtown High School in Newtown, Conn.—Evan Vucci/AP

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A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.