HARTFORD, CT — Labor Commissioner Scott Jackson, who chaired the Sandy Hook Commission when he was mayor of Hamden, said Friday that there’s nothing he’s heard so far about the Parkland shooting that wasn’t referenced in the Sandy Hook report released in 2015.
The 277-page report included 94 recommendations for how to prevent another school shooting, and was fashioned after others that were compiled following the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in Colorado and the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech University.
The Tampa Bay Times reported that the Florida legislature is looking at a response to the Parkland shooting, which includes a “statewide commission to investigate the Parkland massacre, including system failures. It will examine evidence and make recommendations.”
Jackson said Friday that he hasn’t reached out to Florida lawmakers to offer up Connecticut’s report, which is still publicly available online. But he took a few minutes to highlight some of the recommendations on Friday — from interviews with school security and firearm experts to meetings with mental health professionals.
The Sandy Hook Commission spent two years compiling its report.
Fifty-two of the commission’s recommendations were related to mental health, 30 were related to gun safety, and 12 addressed school security.
“We’ve done a good job on the school security and we’ve done as good a job as any on access to firearms, but the mental health situation is really, really expensive, and I don’t know where the resources lie to create a real fix around that,” Jackson said Friday.
Funding for mental health services both inside and outside of Connecticut schools has dwindled over the past two years as revenue sources continue to underperform, forcing state agencies and nonprofits that serve the population to cut back on services.
Even teachers say the cuts in education funding have put additional pressure on school social workers who can’t serve all the children who need their help.
Cathy Davis, a second-grade teacher at Aiken School in West Hartford, said that her students are coming to her with more needs both “social and emotional.”
She said there are classrooms with students whose needs are so severe that they need to clear the classroom “so those students emotional needs can be met and the other children can still be safe.”
“I see social workers and counselors who cannot even see kids in crisis because they’re helping other kids who are already in crisis,” Davis said last week during a press conference calling for an end to spending cuts. “We need more help not less.”
One of the 52 mental health recommendations in the Sandy Hook Commission’s report says “a fully functional mental health system will require better coordination and access to a broad range of necessary services across payment systems.” It also recommends increasing reimbursement rates for behavioral health and increasing the behavioral health workforce.
There’s been no agency or person inside state government that’s been tracking the recommendations to see if they’ve reached a benchmark, but tens of millions of dollars have been cut from the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services budget over the past two years since the recommendations were made by the commission.
The state provides direct mental health services at the department’s facility in the north end of Hartford and also at Connecticut Valley Hospital in Middletown, among other locations.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is proposing annualizing $20 million in budget cuts to the agency as part of his adjustment to the fiscal year 2019 budget.
Nonprofit organizations that receive state funding to provide mental health services have also been cutting back.
By 2015 when the commission released its report, grants to nonprofit organizations had already been cut 13 percent from where they were in 2013.
Looking only at the bottom line for the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, funding to the agency has consistently decreased over the past two fiscal years.
While the state struggles to appropriately fund mental health services, it has spent a significant amount of money on improving school safety.
In 2016, the state Bond Commission approved the last $10 million of the $47 million authorized to finance the hardening of school infrastructure.
The money that was first authorized in 2013 was doled out to school districts based on a competitive bidding process.
The legislation authorizing the borrowing allowed towns and schools to be reimbursed for development or improvement of the “security infrastructure of schools.”
The improvements that qualify include the installation of surveillance cameras, penetration resistant vestibules, ballistic glass, solid core doors, double door access, computer-controlled electronic locks, entry door buzzer systems, scan-card systems, panic alarms or other systems, the training of school personnel in the operation and maintenance of school security infrastructure, the purchase of portable entrance security devices, including metal detector wands and screening machines, and related training.
The gunman who killed 20 first graders and six educators in 2012 shot his way through a window next to the locked front door of the school.
President Donald Trump has suggested last week that it would be a good idea to arm teachers in schools.
Jackson said the person with training and a weapon who was at the school in Parkland didn’t stop the shooting.
“And now we’re going to ask teachers to do that? I’m not sure that’s rational,” Jackson said. “As a parent I would come out against the militarization of my children’s elementary school.”
Connecticut has also passed legislation that would allow local school boards to vote and fund an armed guard at their school if they choose.
Enfield, which once embraced the idea, has since voted to get rid of armed guards at their schools.
Meanwhile, the legislature approved similar legislation for armed guards on community college campuses.
At least eight states already allow teachers in K-12 schools to carry guns and at least six states — Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, Maryland, and Oklahoma — have introduced legislation that would make it easier to have school personnel carry firearms, according to the Education Commission of the States.
The National Rifle Association came out with a 225-page report in April 2013 that called for more armed guards in schools. The report came out a few weeks before the U.S. Senate was unsuccessful in finding enough support to debate expanded background checks on gun purchases. That was after Sandy Hook parents went to Washington to try to persuade lawmakers to take action.
Connecticut Education Association President Sheila Cohen said last week guns have no place in the schools.
“Asking teachers to be armed, paramilitary operatives as a result of the inability of Congress to pass gun violence prevention legislation is madness,” Cohen said. “We place enough mandates on our teachers—Congress needs to take action to keep our schools safe.”