NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) – As part of Educating Connecticut, News 8 looks at school security and what is being done to keep your kids and school staff safe.
Active shooter training is now a reality in Connecticut schools.
“It’s very different today,” said Fran Rabinowitz, the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents executive director. “It’s unfortunate, actually, but most of our children now don’t know anything different.”
Despite the tragedy at Sandy Hook, which caught the attention of schools across the nation, school shootings continue to happen at an alarming rate.
Since that attack in December 2012, there have been more than 1,000 school shootings in the U.S., and now, for the first time, guns are the leading cause of death for American children and teens.
That makes active shooter training drills, where districts prepare for the worst-case scenario, necessary and potentially life-saving.
“When I started, Columbine had just happened, so people were aware, but I don’t really think it hit home in a way we needed to plan systemically,” KC Petruzzi said.
Petruzzi has been a Granby Memorial High School science teacher for 23 years. She’s seen firsthand how active shooter training has evolved with new technology and ways of thinking.
“Kids would open doors for people, you were polite, you learned [that] you see a gentleman with packages he’s delivery, and you’re going to open the door for him because it’s the right thing to do,” Petruzzi said. “It started getting drilled into kids that we can’t open doors for people. They have to enter through that one single point during the school day. It took a while to unlearn those habits, but now it would never happen.”
School districts have also upgraded the systems, arming themselves with the latest equipment.
“One of the newest features we have is when you’re in a camera, you can follow a student, or you can follow any activity in the building by looking at any of these circles,” said Michael Groove, Meriden Public Schools. “You can click on it, and it will take you to the next camera in the building.”
Meriden has more than 650 cameras within its schools, 180 door sensors, and 50 keyless entry points.
“But we’re also looking internally at how we can make our schools safe every day, and we know the best way to get the information is for one of our students to come forward and let us know,” said Dr. Mark Benigni, the superintendent of Meriden Public Schools.
In Waterford, Superintendent Thomas Giard says they utilize programs developed by Sandy Hook Promise: “Start with Hello” and “Say Something.”
“Which really asks everybody to be a set of eyes all the way down to our youngest students,” Giard said.
These upgrades can be costly for any district, meaning grant money plays a crucial role.
“Given there’s not unlimited resources, they have applied for grants every year, and I think Connecticut’s ahead of the game, and we’ve been doing school security grants forever, and I think that’s very helpful,” Rabinowitz said.
While sweeping changes have been made, there’s a push for more work to be done.
“Despite all of our best efforts, Uvalde did happen. It happened ten years after Sandy Hook,” said Kate Dias, President of the Connecticut Education Association. “When you think about that, it really speaks to the fact that we’re not solving the problem.”
Educators are feeling the pressure, always keeping in the back of their minds what could happen next.
Last month, a Virginia teacher was shot by a 6-year-old student who brought a gun to school in their backpack.
“When you talk to educators, it’s an amazing thing to listen to them talk about how they shove their own anxieties down, they leave them in their cars, and they go into their buildings, kind of stealing themselves to be the strong classroom leader they need them to be,” Dias said.
Dias says the key to solving this issue is looking at root causes.
“We think we’re solving the problem by teaching children to stand in the corner and hide,” Dias said. “That’s not the problem. The problem is we have a real issue with access to weapons, mental health issues. There’s a lot of unpacking there.”
At the core of it all, in a world filled with uncertainty, these educators want everyone to at least feel safe within school walls, and it’s a collaborative effort to make that happen.
“It’s just not what we imagined for the world of education, and I think we can do better, but it’s going to take a lot of effort,” Dias said.
While it’s up to districts to enact changes, they want to see them within schools. It’s a weight no superintendent has to shoulder alone. They work with districts to share information and ideas in the hopes they’ll be ready.