The Danbury Board of Education sat down to discuss school security Thursday for the first time since the Dec. 14 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Parents wanted to discuss individual school safety and putting armed guards in every school. More than 200 people attended the meeting, and the board took written questions from the audience. Some questions were shouted to the board, which met in the Broadview Middle School auditorium.
Schools Superintendent Sal Pascarella said some questions don't have easy answers and both he and the board need time before making long-term security decisions. One of those tough questions would be whether or not to hire armed guards for every school. Danbury already hired unarmed security guards for the elementary schools.
Pascarella said many of the questions parents asked were questions the school staff and system administrators have been asking since the December shootings. He said administrators visited each school and looked at building plans and checked security and lock-down procedures.
Board Member Annrose Fluskey-Lattin asked about school door locks and if there is a way to make them lock quicker. She said they require a key and a teacher takes 15 or more seconds to lock the door in a school lock down.
"Fifteen seconds could be a deadly factor for safety or not," Fluskey-Lattin said.
Those questions included do exterior school doors lock, do classroom doors lock and are those the right locks to protect the students and staff. Maybe a classroom door should be locked all the time, and anyone entering must knock to be admitted. Are people being challenged before they enter the schools? Are safety advocates and maintenance workers checking to make sure doors are closed and locked.
One man said Sandy Hook Elementary School had cameras and a locked door. What good did they do against an armed man, he asked. He declined after speaking to give his name.
Pascarella said the board is looking for a company to review the systems in each school, such as door locks, cameras and other security systems to make sure they are the proper equipment.
Danbury High School and the city's two middle schools have police officers at the schools, plus the high school has six safety advocates who check people in the hallways to make sure they belong. Each middle school has one safety advocate.
Parents submitted questions and sometimes spoke out during the meeting to ask questions. Parents were worried about King Street Primary, which they described as an "Open floor plan," meaning students don't sit in classrooms, but work in classes in a larger, open space.
"In that school, the kids are sitting ducks," one parent said.
Tina Hislop, the assistant principal at King Street Primary, said the school crisis team got together after the Newtown tragedy and agreed they had a problem. They agreed a traditional "lock down," didn't make sense in that school because the students aren't sitting in a traditional classroom. So the team started to practice "safety drills," with the students. Each class has a safe place they go to with locked doors and the kids practice going to that space and being quiet.
Hislop said the safer spaces include copier rooms, computer rooms, classrooms and bathrooms.
One grandmother has a 6-year-old and an 8-year-old at King Street Primary, and she said the school handled the safety drills well.
"They know where to go and they know what to do. The girls were concerned, but they weren't overwhelmed," the woman said. She declined to give her name, saying she said what she meant to say.