Security landscape changing at nation's schools

Aug. 28, 2023
New London, Conn.-area schools take varying approaches to security as Pew Research Center report shows 65% of public K-12 schools had one or more security staff person present at the school at least once a week.

New London, Conn. (Aug. 27) — Students across the region who are returning to school this week may encounter either a police officer or civilian security guard, depending on the district they attend.

New London schools eliminated its school resource officer program three years ago and have employed private civilian security ever since. Norwich Public Schools took the opposite approach last year when they added a third police officer to concentrate on behavioral problems in the district's five elementary schools.

School security has been increasing through the years nationwide. A study by the Pew Research Center shows 65% of public K-12 schools had one or more staff person present at the school at least once a week in the 2019-20 school year, up from 43% a decade earlier. About half of those schools had at least one sworn officer.

The security landscape in the region also shifted last year as school districts reacted to the May 24, 2022, mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, that claimed the lives of 19 students and two teachers. Old Lyme and Montville were among Connecticut school districts that opted to employ armed security guards.

Old Lyme School Superintendent Ian Neviaser declined to discuss where armed security guards are located but said "our schools have a comprehensive security plan that is developed, reviewed, and updated (as needed) by our Safety Committee." The safety committee, Neviaser said, comprises members of the community and includes students, parents, staff, first responders, medical professionals and transportation representatives.

Montville schools, in addition to armed security, maintain two school resource officers, Police Chief Wilfred Blanchette III said.

New London started the 2020 school year without a school resource officer and never looked back when negotiations on a new memorandum for the SRO position with the police department broke down. Some community members had called for the removal of police, citing studies that indicate higher rates of arrests and expulsions among Black and Latino students in schools.

The New London school board wanted a say in the job description, a mission statement and an evaluation process. Lawmakers in Connecticut earlier this year similarly debated the merits of standardizing rules for the use of school resource officers in response to those statistics.

New London School Superintendent Cynthia Ritchie and Police Chief Brian Wright both said the school district and police maintain a strong partnership with regular collaborations, onsite visits and relationship-building programs

Ritchie said the district uses a "multi-tiered approach to building security and maintains a strong partnership and regularly collaborates with police, on-site school visits by police."

In addition to the security staff, Ritchie said the district employs behavior motivators, wellness interventionists, psychologists, social workers and guidance counselors to help support the social emotional needs of the students.

In East Lyme, Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey R. Newton said the district has security staff members in every building as well as security staff who sweep the parking lots and school grounds. Newton said there is also a dedicated town police officer who patrols the town's schools.

Norwich schools station a Norwich police officer at each of the two middle schools and has one officer roaming at the seven elementary schools.

Zakkyya Williams, communications director for Norwich schools, said the SROs have been beneficial in everything from school security drills to safety assessments. The SROs also lead lead active shooter training and preparedness, which was formerly run by Norwich police.

Williams said the officers have assisted with custody disputes, no contact orders, disputes of parental rights, attendance matters, investigations and safety support of students and staff in school, on buses, at bus stops, and after-school events.

"It's our hope, if the budget allows, to add an additional elementary school SRO for another layer of safety next year," Williams said.

Other school districts contacted for this report did not immediately comment.


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