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    Saturday, September 23, 2023

    Lyme-Old Lyme school board approves armed school security guards

    Old Lyme — Schools in the Lyme-Old Lyme district will have armed security guards starting next school year after a 7-2 vote in favor of the proposal during a special meeting Wednesday in a packed meeting room at Center School.

    Superintendent Ian Neviaser proposed the move as just one of many enhanced security measures in the school district in the wake of the nation’s latest school shooting on May 25 at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, in which 19 students and two teachers were killed.

    Parents and current and former educators addressed the board during public comment Wednesday, most asking the board to delay action, slow down and study the issue more deeply. Parents cited research that said adding armed security to schools enhances rather than diminishes the chances of violence.

    Supporters of the move, including some board members, said the quicker an armed professional arrives at a potentially dangerous incident, the better.

    Board members Christopher Staab, Mary Powell St. Louis, Chairman Steven Wilson, Laura Dean-Frazier, Jason Kemp, Jennifer Miller and Suzanne Thompson voted in favor of the motion, while Vice Chairwoman Martha Shoemaker and member Anna James voted against it.

    “The first thing anyone does when there is an active shooter is call someone with a gun,” Wilson said during board discussion. He added that the armed security guards would only be asked to use their weapons in response to an active intruder situation. Other board members assured concerned parents that the weapons would be concealed as part of the guards’ uniforms.

    Shoemaker and James both urged the board to delay the vote to study the evidence of whether it would improve safety and to seek more public input. Shoemaker suggested forming a school board committee and holding a special meeting this summer to discuss the proposal again.

    Board member Powell St. Louis, a member of the board’s safety committee, said the committee has implemented many safety improvements over the years, including locked doors, shatter-proof glass and window shades. She agreed reaching out to students to make them “good community members” would be beneficial.

    “This is an appropriate step in continuous improvements for the security measures for Region 18,” Powell St. Louis said. “It’s the right thing to do and it’s the right time to do it.”

    Neviaser said opinions were mixed in online responses to a request for comments from parents, teachers and older students on the proposal. He said the exchange was more of a discussion than an actual survey.

    Earlier in June, when Neviaser made the proposal, he said the only people to be armed would be 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.

    On Wednesday, Neviaser presented the board with cost estimates. Arming the guards would add $43,000 to $48,000 to the annual security costs, plus the one-time estimated cost of $8,900 to purchase the firearms. Other costs include $30,000 to $35,000 in additional salary compensation per year, $7,500 for added insurance and $1,500 for supplies.

    “We have never said, and will never say, that this is the singular solution to this problem,” Neviaser said. “This is one of many, many solutions we have put in place. We have been looking at this for many years. We began looking at this well over 10 years ago, before Sandy Hook, when our doors weren’t even locked.”

    The district, which has five schools, has three full-time and one part-time security guards, with one guard at each campus; the high school, middle school and Center school share the main campus. The part-time security guard covers the main campus for after-school events.

    Prior to the vote, speakers peppered the board with questions about the plan, including whether school officials had researched experiences in districts where shootings had occurred, exactly what situations would merit drawing and possibly using the weapons, how well trained and equipped the officers would be and whether alternatives were considered.

    One parent said she was surprised when her fourth grader told her she would feel safer with armed police officers in her school. She said children now are used to seeing police cars at school. But one high school student said she opposed the move, saying it would not improve safety. She said the relationship between current security guards and students is “friendly,” but arming the guards could change that feeling.

    Among the speakers urging a delay in the vote was retired Lyme-Old Lyme High School Principal Scott Brown. Brown expressed strong confidence in current school leadership and asked if the board had discussed the move with school guidance counselors and psychologists before bringing it to the floor.

    “I would stress, slow down on this one,” Brown said.


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