Malloy wants state to spend more on school security

New Haven — As students and visitors at Wilbur Cross High School pass through metal detectors and are searched for weapons, an overhead security camera allows police to constantly monitor the school’s entrance.

After the fatal shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the district installed cameras in every school, linking them to the nearby police department. The city could do this as a result of a new state school security grant.

But New Haven officials say more upgrades are needed, including a mechanism that would allow schools to immediately lock every door in the building in an emergency.

Their wish may soon be granted.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced Thursday that he plans to ask the legislature to provide another $10 million for school officials to upgrade school infrastructure. To date, the state has spent $21 million to provide half of Connecticut’s public schools with things like bullet-proof glass, panic buttons and locks for classroom doors.

“I want to make sure that we have a robust effort in making all of our public schools safe,” the Democratic governor said during his visit to Wilbur Cross.

While schools focus on providing a safe environment for students, statistics that can help measure the safety of Connecticut’s public schools show mixed results. For example, the number of students bringing weapons to school has steadily declined over the last six reported school years, according to the State Department of Education. During the 2006-07 school year, 1,953 students got in trouble for bringing a weapon to school compared with 1,203 students during the 2011-12 school year — a 38 percent dip.

However, the number of violent crimes students committed against someone while at school increased from 445 to 765 incidents during that time. And the number of fights has remained steady at about 15,000 a year.

Security guards at Wilbur Cross in New Haven greet a visitor

Jacqueline Rabe Thomas / CT Mirror

Security guards at Wilbur Cross in New Haven greet a visitor

While grateful that the state is paying for construction-related security measures, New Haven school officials say they also need more help to hire more school psychologists, social workers and other mental health professionals to address students’ needs and improve the climate in their schools.

“That is an area that we need significantly more resources. There is no question about that. It’s imperfect. Those interventions are key,” said Will Clark, New Haven schools’ chief operating officer. “We already have a full-time security force.”

Wilbur Cross has two full-time police officers on site and 10 people on security detail monitoring the building. The school has about 1,300 students.

State records show that most of New Haven’s schools have more mental health professionals than security staff. But that’s not the case in other districts. (See school-by-school breakdowns here.)

Statewide, schools employ 3,155 mental health professionals (counselors, social workers and psychologists) compared with 625 security guards or school-based police officers. These figures remained steady in the 10 years before the Sandy Hook shootings, the department reports. However, the number of security guards and the availability of mental health professionals vary dramatically from school to school. (See school-by-school data here.)

Asked Thursday if he would be proposing more state spending for additional mental health professionals for schools, Malloy said his budget will continue to support efforts to increase access to mental health services for children, but he offered no specifics.

Included in the legislature’s new post-Sandy Hook law is the requirement that the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services provide training to help each school’s so-called “safe school climate coordinator” to recognize signs of mental disorders in students and connect them with the necessary professionals.

Lawmakers also passed a bill that requires the Department of Children and Families’ Emergency Mobile Psychiatric Service to collaborate with local school boards and school-based health centers to better identify children with mental, behavioral or emotional issues and to help them access the appropriate treatment program. Funding was not provided for this initiative.

It’s unclear how many more schools would be able to upgrade their security infrastructure with Malloy’s proposed allocation of $10 million. But going forward every new school built in the state will soon have to adhere to security standards to be eligible for state construction funding.

Howard Boyd, a parent of a Wilbur Cross sophomore, said he’s thankful that the state has stepped up and provided money for security in schools

“They can just focus on education and not on being safe at school,” Boyd said to the governor. “Thank you.”

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