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Preston schools examining security

By Claire Bessette

Publication: The Day

Published December 23. 2012 4:00AM
But superintendent says he would not support armed guards in schools

Preston - Superintendent John Welch will present a security enhancement plan for the town's two schools to the Board of Education in January in light of the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

Welch said he has been working with a security company the school system has used in the past to assess the current security systems and protocols and make recommendations for improvements. He expects to present a report on proposed changes to enhance security to the Board of Education at the Jan. 14 meeting.

Welch said the consultation thus far has not cost the district any money, but improvements would carry a price tag.

On Friday, the National Rifle Association said Congress should pay to station an armed police officer in every school in the nation.

Welch said he would oppose armed security guards in the schools, as they would not be able to provide an element of education.

But he said he is giving consideration to hiring school resource officers, who have become common in many middle and high schools in the state. The officers are trained to work with youth in an educational capacity.

The Preston Veterans' Memorial School and Preston Plains Middle School currently have security buzzer systems for admitting visitors to the schools and extensive, high-resolution color cameras for identifying visitors.

The schools practice lockdown drills, as all schools do in the state, and can lock classrooms from within during emergencies.

Interior doors at both schools have windows with wire mesh reinforcement, as do the exterior door windows at the middle school. The large exterior glass windows, however, do not have wire reinforcement.

Since the Newtown shooting, the town's two resident state troopers have increased their presence at the two schools, Welch said.

"It's a big challenge for school districts to secure buildings that were never designed with security in mind in the first place," he said. "The other reality is, during the school day, you are going to have children outside."

First Selectman Robert Congdon said he is concerned about the town's overall safety systems and procedures. He has asked that a representative from the town's insurance company, the Connecticut Interlocal Risk Management Agency (CIRMA) to visit Preston and assess both the town and school security measures.

Congdon is a member of the CIRMA board of directors. The board met Tuesday and discussed municipal safety measures.

"I think we're taking the appropriate steps," Congdon said. "There are some requests for armed people in the schools at all times. Talking with police professionals and insurance professionals, that will not stop somebody with evil intentions from carrying out an evil deed."

c.bessette@theday.com

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