HARTFORD — Connecticut's School Safety Working Group revealed the bills, they say, will strengthen security in this post-Sandy-Hook era.
It's been a little over six years since 20 children and 6 adults were killed in a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. And it's been four years since the advisory commission ended their work. So in April of last year, a group of Republican and Democratic lawmakers formed an ad-hoc committee and met once a month to make sure Connecticut's promise to protect kids, wasn't lost.
“There's no opportunity for any partisan discussions when it comes to our school safety,” said Rep. Dorinda Borer, a Democrat from West Haven. Connecticut formed a truly bi-partisan 'School Safety Working Group.'
Rep. Carol Hall, a Republican from Enfield, East Windsor said, “We put together a pretty comprehensive group of bills.” 18 bills to be exact. They are working their way through the legislative process in either the education or public safety committees.
“We set out to answer the question, is the state of Connecticut doing everything possible to keep its students safe,” explained Rep. J.P. Sredzinski, a Republican from Newtown.
The package of legislation includes a bill that would require classrooms to have doors that lock from the inside. Another bill proposes moving voting in September up two weeks to before school is in session. “Schools should be a playground to have fun and enjoy, not a playground for violence,” said Rep. Joe Verrengia, a Democrat from West Hartford.
A similar federal commission after the 2018 Parkland, Florida shooting sparked a national conversation about arming teachers. Not in Connecticut, say lawmakers. “It came up very briefly, for half a second,” said Rep. Hall. Rep Borer said, “That came up for about a nanosecond. It came up and it was dismissed as quickly as it came up.”
Instead, a bill proposes using one-time grant money to fund armed school security officers. But in the wake of Gov. Lamont's debt diet, Rep. Hall says it needs to be a line-item in the budget. “The importance of not only supplying the ability to our schools to have SSO's, but supplying the funding,” said Rep. Hall.
Other bills focus on better access to mental health services. “We're looking to develop and strengthen the health curriculum that's currently in the schools, I think we could do a better job making sure we have social and emotional learning and intervention,” explained Rep. Borer.
One bill would put a licensed architect on a state committee to examine how to build safer schools, from Kevlar walls to metal detectors, to double doors. “There is so much emerging technology in school security and safety, even since the tragedy of Sandy Hook,” said Rep. Hall.
The remaining bills put the spotlight on drilling and training and making sure emergency plans are in place at both the state and local level. Members of the committee told me these bills are the result of conversations with many superintendents and school safety advocates.