Education association officials who attended a school security symposium Monday said no single idea was identified to make schools safer. However, they did agree that arming teachers and administrators has more potential to cause trouble than good.
More than 850 people participated in the Connecticut School Security Symposium on Monday at the Aqua Turf Banquet Facility in Southington. The event was sponsored by a coalition of the state’s professional education associations. A group of school officials briefed reporters on the symposium at a Tuesday press conference in West Hartford.
The symposium was organized to help address school security questions after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings last month in Newtown.
Joseph Cirasuolo, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, said the day’s events covered a wide range of topics. Among those were how to prevent or mitigate school shootings, as well as how to prepare, respond, and recover.
From buzzer systems to bulletproof glass, Cirasuolo said there was no singular takeaway generated by the symposium, which featured academics and law enforcement experts from around the country.
“There is no one-size-fixes-everything approach to this. Each community is unique. In fact in some communities each school is unique,” he said, adding that the symposium was designed to give school officials tools to determine what works in their community.
However, representatives of the education associations dismissed the idea of arming school personnel during a question-and-answer period Tuesday.
The idea has been put forward by some of the groups who make up the gun lobby in Connecticut.
“One of the things that was recommended against very strongly was arming teachers and principals, because when it comes down to it you can make sure somebody knows how to use a firearm — shoot it — but you need to make sure the person that has the firearm knows how to use it in a school setting,” Cirasuolo said.
The speakers at the symposium thought it was unrealistic to expect educators to be trained in the proper use of guns inside a school, he said.
Karissa Niehoff, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Schools, said the prospect of arming teachers and administrators as well as training them to use the weapons presents liability concerns for school districts.
“It’s just a huge factor and there’s really no data out there to support arming faculty to prevent any kind of tragedies. So that was a very shortly discussed topic for some very powerful reasons,” she said.
Some firearms advocates have also called for armed guards to be stationed in every school. Wayne LaPierre, the National Rifle Association’s CEO, advocated that position at an NRA press conference in December.
Officials who attended the symposium were not necessarily opposed to having an armed guard at schools, but they said that if that is the path schools opt to take, it should be a police officer.
“The recommendation was pretty strong,” Cirasuolo said. “If you’re going to do something of that type, make sure the person who is there is a trained police officer . . . trained to work in schools.”
Niehoff said there was a school resource officer in the high school where she served as a principal, and she said it was an outstanding experience having the officer on the grounds. The officer was a part of the school community, teaching some legal classes, even acting as one of the football coaches, she said.
“He was just a tremendous presence in our school,” she said.
Though trained police officers can be one strategy towns can consider to make their schools safer, Cirasuolo seemed doubtful that their presence would prevent school shootings.
“Keep in mind that one third of the schools in this country already have armed personnel on site. Keep in mind that at Columbine there was an armed guard and he could not prevent what occurred there,” he said.
The debate over school security will continue when the governor’s task force tackles the issue as part of a broader discussion on gun control and mental health.