As painful as it is to remember what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown five years ago today, it makes sense to take a look at what has changed since then to make it less likely that such a tragedy will be repeated.
What we remember – beyond all the grief and pain inflicted when a single gunman murdered 20 first-graders and six staff members – is the heroism of the staff. They did whatever they could to protect the children, led by Principal Dawn Hochsprung, who was the first to confront the gunman and the first to die.
But heroism wasn’t enough, and since that day school systems here and around the country have been forced to take a hard look at their security measures.
More schools keep their doors locked, with buzzer systems to open the door only to approved visitors. But Sandy Hook had such a system, and it didn’t keep the killer out. Still, when a gunman recently attacked a school in rural California, the locked doors seem to have deterred him.
Many school systems have installed bulletproof glass and cameras, or have hired guards or sentries, and this may have dissuaded some attacks; it’s impossible to know. But there are no standardized criteria for the hiring and training of such guards. In some communities, like New Canaan, these people tend to be former police officers or firefighters, or other responsible adults. However, they are not armed, and having armed people on site, other than sworn police officers, raises its own serious issues.
Another consideration involves mental health. Sandy Hook Promise – a nonprofit formed by Sandy Hook families after the massacre, to help protect children from gun violence – cautions schools and parents to “know the signs” that might indicate that a young person is prone to engage in gun violence. (Learn more at www.sandyhookpromise.org.) Whether state and federal funding in the years ahead will be adequate to address such troubled individuals remains to be seen.
After Sandy Hook, this state beefed up its gun laws, although little was done elsewhere. The country is a patchwork of different laws, procedures and standards for school security, which is also true from town to town in Connecticut.
There are more than 200 school districts or authorities in this state. In the New England tradition of local control, they have a great deal of autonomy in many regards, including school security.
Connecticut has set no statewide standards and procedures for school security, but schools are required to report their security plans and lockdown drills to the state. The Hartford Courant recently reported that many schools have not complied with that mandate, which is troubling. We will have to rely on the various boards of education and school superintendents to remain alert to security needs – and on the general public to stay vigilant.
Total school security is impossible to achieve without turning our schools into virtual prisons, and that’s something that few would support. But at very least, the schools must comply with the state’s reporting requirements.