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    Friday, January 27, 2023

    Lyme-Old Lyme schools to consider arming security personnel

    The superintendent of Lyme-Old Lyme schools is proposing arming school security officers, saying the move would add a layer of safety for students and staff.

    “It is our duty to make sure that our students are safe as possible at all times, and sadly in the world that we live in today, we need to look at all options to make sure that that is the case,” Ian Neviaser said.

    The proposal so far has been met with both opposition and support, though the school district is still seeking feedback from parents. The proposal is scheduled to come before the Board of Education for a vote at a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. June 15 at Center School and would take effect next year, if approved.

    Neviaser said the only people to be armed under the proposal are the district’s school security officers, who are all retired law enforcement officers. He said they would undergo both their regular training and any additional training required.

    “This recommendation is based on longstanding concerns over police response time to our schools should there ever be a life-threatening situation such as we saw in Texas last week,” reads a request for feedback sent to parents in the school district. “We do not take this decision lightly, but do feel that this additional preventive measure will add yet another layer of safety to all three of our campuses. As this is an important decision, we are looking for your input.”

    The Lyme-Old Lyme school district said it is using a new tool, ThoughtExchange, to seek comments that will be kept confidential: “You'll be asked a few survey questions and then one open-ended question to solicit your comments. You can add as many thoughts as you would like in response to this open-ended question."

    Neviaser said that the schools are served by Connecticut State Police Troop F barracks. Old Lyme also has a resident trooper and constables, though Lyme does not, but he said the proposal is not necessarily about Lyme. He said studies on mass shootings show that they usually happen in a matter of minutes, and that unless a police officer was parked in front of a school, they couldn’t respond as quickly as an armed security guard could.

    Old Lyme First Selectman Timothy Griswold said in this day and age, he thinks it’s a smart move and that the people who would have the concealed firearms are trained in police matters. He said he thinks having someone on scene is a good line of first defense, though if anything serious were to happen, police would respond from all over.

    Old Lyme Resident Trooper Matthew Weber and Lyme First Selectman Steven Mattson could not immediately be reached to comment Monday.

    A Connecticut State Police spokesman said state police have not read the proposal made by the Lyme-Old Lyme superintendent.

    “Due to the number of local and state proposals that arise regarding a variety of police matters, the CT State Police cannot speculate on what those proposals may mean for our agency,” the spokesman said.

    Neviaser said the school district used to have a school resource officer when the state police had an SRO program and considered hiring an SRO again after the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., but he thinks arming security guards is a better approach.

    For one thing, Neviaser said, there is nationwide concern that SROs in schools increase the number of students who get arrested for issues that really should be addressed as a school matter. For the program to be effective, the school district also would need to have an SRO in every single building, which would cost about $1 million a year, he said.

    Neviaser said the district would still need to finalize how much it would cost to arm security personnel. He estimates it would cost less than $50,000 in total, with some of that a one-time cost and some of it an annual cost.

    He said a majority of people were fully in support of the proposal to arm security guards. He said if asked five or 10 years ago, people might not have been so supportive, but that due to the continuing mass shootings, they want to make sure their child and their child’s teacher are as safe as possible.

    Neviaser also has heard from opponents of the proprosal whose concerns include not liking the idea of guns in schools.

    William Fitzgerald, a district parent and a private researcher, said he has concerns about the survey, which people can share with like-minded groups or on social media, resulting in a skewed view of what people in the community think. He said the survey could have been designed differently to prevent that.

    Fitzgerald said he is strongly in favor of keeping kids, teachers and staff safe but that research shows the majority of school shooters may have been influenced by misogyny and racism as well as access to guns. He is in favor of the school district doing things that have been shown to be effective, such as reducing misogyny and openly addressing racism. The research on school shootings shows armed guards and cops hasn’t worked.

    “The data isn’t there,” he said.

    Fitzgerald's wife, Isabelle Barbour, who has a master's degree in public health and whose career includes working to prevent violence in relationships and gun violence in Los Angeles, agreed that the evidence doesn’t show that arming guards keeps students, staff or community members safer. She said more guns is associated with more violence. She said the focus should be on school climate and how to create trust among all members of the school community so that there is open and direct communication around threats that happen in school buildings and beyond. She said she would rather the school district discuss all it has done to increase safety.

    Neviaser said the board discussed the proposal at its last meeting, and the overall sentiment was support for it.

    “Obviously, nobody loves the idea of having to arm people at school, but it’s sadly become the world that we live in today in order to make sure that our students are safe,” he said.

    Neviaser said the school has invested a lot of time, effort and money into security measures and that the proposal is part of a multi-pronged approach that includes a focus on mental health and communication.

    “This is one of many tools in the toolbox to keep our students safe,” he said.

    Neviaser acknowledged that people could potentially "game" the survey, but said it’s a way to gather feedback in a relatively short period as the school district approaches the end of the school year and is not a referendum. He said it will be a Board of Education decision and that board members have been elected to make decisions for the community based on what they think is best for students and staff.

    He said people can also call, email or speak during board meetings.

    He said a public forum is not currently scheduled, but that the board could decide to hold one, though it will have to meet certain deadlines if it is to have the proposal in place by next school year.

    k.drelich@theday.com

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