Montville looks at unarmed solution to school safety

Montville — A few weeks after the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., town officials formed a subcommittee on school security, with several pushing for armed high school security personnel, bringing back school resource officers or forming volunteer security teams.

On Monday, just days after another high school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, town and school officials said they recently began talks to explore more ways to keep Montville students as safe as possible. One possibility, raised in talks with East Lyme school administrators, would be to have full-time, unarmed security personnel in town schools.

"The Board of Education and the administration take student safety very seriously, and we have worked hard to develop comprehensive school safety plans," acting Superintendent Laurie Pallin said. "We are always open to considering additional methods for increasing awareness and ensuring a safe learning environment."

Public Safety Commission Chairman Robert Yuchniuk and Commissioner Mike Butterworth said they expected talks with school officials to continue through the summer. Updates to school security hinge on ongoing budget discussions, and Pallin noted the school board would engage in the process.

Since 2013, retired state Trooper Mike Collins has worked for the district as an unarmed campus security officer.

While arming Collins or bringing back school resource officers drove security discussions earlier this year, Pallin said officials recently met with administrators in East Lyme, where all five schools employ an unarmed campus security officer.

East Lyme Superintendent Jeffrey Newton said the officers typically have a background in law enforcement. He said they've done a solid job providing a security presence, ensuring building safety and keeping an eye out for unauthorized visitors.

"It's been great and very well-received," Newton said. "There's a focus on safety and security in each building."

East Lyme Police also assign an officer to travel among the district's schools.

Montville Police Lt. Leonard Bunnell says manpower constraints make it impossible to staff a full-time SRO. He said a DARE officer spends a good deal of time at the schools, and for the last couple of years he's required more thorough and randomized school patrol checks.

Bunnell said Monday he is "anxious to get moving and to help out in any way we can to provide the training and any assistance" in acquiring a weapon for Collins.

"We own it, we'll maintain it, we'll provide the training which we're required to do," he said.

Collins and administrators have declined to comment on the issue before the school board reviews the matter.

"Any consideration of hiring additional safety staff and/or arming staff members would need to be brought before the board," Pallin said.

Yuchniuk and Butterworth declined to discuss details of any safety-related meetings or potential plans thus far, citing security reasons.

Butterworth said he hopes to bring Stop the Bleed training sessions to the community, helping raise awareness of how to stop life-threatening bleeding in emergencies and disasters.

"We are very serious about working hand-in-hand with the school board to make Montville schools as safe as possible in light of all the horrible things happening in this country," Yuchniuk said.

Board of Education Chairman Robert Mitchell said the board would keep its security options open and take a harder look at the issue once budget talks wrap up in the coming weeks.

Mitchell said he hadn't heard talk of allowing armed teachers in Montville. He said he was concerned about teachers being forced into a situation where they must be ready to shoot a student, and added that "teachers would not have the same training as an SRO or police officer."

"Student safety is always our top concern," he said.



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