Two districts implement security upgrades

East Lyme - As state legislators prepared on Wednesday to vote on a bill for tougher gun control and new mental health and school security initiatives, Superintendent James Lombardo said the East Lyme school district is moving forward with implementing its recently revised school-safety plan.

Faculty soon will begin reviewing the provisions, which include additional training for school personnel and infrastructure upgrades, following a recent districtwide security audit.

The state's security recommendations are in line with the district's plans, said Lombardo, who added that it would be great if the state proposals compel other districts to adopt security initiatives.

"What we've heard from the (Sandy Hook) commission and the legislature are really affirmations of what we have done and will do," he said.

He would be pleased to receive funding for security initiatives, he said, which would "address some of the concerns in tough budget times."

Another part of the state bill sets safety standards for school construction projects. Lombardo said his district has been prepared as it renovates or rebuilds its elementary schools in the future to equip them to meet safety standards.

In terms of mental health, Lombardo said, the district has added two social workers in the past two years and is developing more extensive training for staff to detect youths who may be having difficulties and to refer concerns to the appropriate party.

"Our focus on mental health and awareness of students with difficulties is the most important thing we can do," he said.

In Ledyard, a $27,000 project that closed off the middle school's open clusters with walls and doors along the hallway, as well as installed a mechanism to lock the doors to this section of the school from the main office, was completed this week, Superintendent Mike Graner said.

Talk of security upgrades, particularly at Ledyard Middle School, came to a head in January. Discussion at a forum quickly turned to the school's open-classroom setup and its lack of interior walls - constructed around a popular educational model in the 1970s. Any lockdown would have given an intruder access to about 80 percent of students, with no walls or doors in the way.

A school security committee, headed by maintenance director Sam Kilpatrick and Ledyard Police Lt. Mike Finkelstein and comprising education staff and first responders, is coordinating security audits of the facilities by the district's insurance company, local police and the state.

The middle school upgrade will act as a stopgap before the completion of a proposed $45 million renovation to the middle school, slated to go before the town's voters in May.

Graner said the school security provisions in the gun control bill will help.

"It sounds like they're going to be giving us some guidance, which I think will be very useful to the school staff a well as to the other committee members," he said.

Graner said that the committee also is discussing the construction of "secure vestibules" at the entrances to all district schools, to which any visitor must request entry and, once inside, speak to a school staff member.

The bill's school security provisions include a re-authorization of the school security infrastructure competitive grant program to reimburse towns for such upgrades, at a rate of between 20 percent and 80 percent, depending on the municipality.

"I think these infrastructure changes could be implemented at a very reasonable price," Graner said. "And if we got a little bit of support for it from the state, then I think it would be even more manageable."

k.drelich@theday.com

a.isaacs@theday.com

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