District Conitnues With Two-Pronged Approach To Safety

District Conitnues With Two-Pronged Approach To Safety


Cheshire Superintendent of Schools Jeff Solan admits that he has had to send the same type of letter to parents far too often over the last several years.

In the aftermath of a mass shooting at a school in the U.S., Solan will contact parents just to ease any concerns and assure them that the District is doing everything possible to ensure the safety of their children. Though Cheshire, fortunately, has never had to deal with circumstances such as those recently seen in Uvalde, Texas, where an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School, the threat, Solan admitted, touches all schools and students.

“For kids, this has become much more commonplace,” said Solan. “Some generate a lot of media attention, but others only receive some (attention), where maybe there is some gunfire around schools.”

“I worry that it has become in some ways normalized,” he continued.

In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown on Dec. 14, 2012, schools across the state began making improvements to their facilities to limit access to someone who may want to cause harm. In Cheshire, according to Solan, the community has spent approximately $5 million over the course of a decade to make improvements in a variety of areas, including bullet-resistant film added to windows, the installation of “person traps” at the entrances to schools, the upgrading of video equipment and cameras around buildings, and more. All of it is designed to make it difficult if not impossible for an active shooter to gain easy access to  buildings.

However, Solan insists that is only the first of a two-pronged approach that the District has taken.

The other is “threat mitigation,” whereby students and staff are trained in how to identify concerning warning signs in an individual’s behavior or demeanor and report those concerns to the proper authorities.

“Several years ago, we brought in a trainer from the state to work with our staff on how to report a threat — any threat — when recognized,” said Solan. “That could be a threat to one’s self, a threat to others, anything.”

The District also employed the help of a former FBI agent, who worked with staff to further understand the signs they should be aware of. That training, Solan said, will continue this summer for newer members of the District who did not participate previously.

“(The former FBI agent) explains that violence is on a continuum, and everyone focuses on the critical incident, call it the ‘bang’ incident,” said Solan. “What we want to do is intervene before it ever gets to that ‘bang’ incident.”

Doing so isn’t just about preventing a mass shooting the likes of which occurred in Uvalde, which remains rare. It’s to address the well being of any individual who may be struggling or in crisis.

“There are certain signs — perhaps a big change in appearance or behavior,” said Solan. “It may be a change in rhetoric. The important thing is to look for real shifts. To listen to what people say, watch what they do, and support them where they need it.”

“Really supporting people who need support from an emotional perspective is probably the best thing we can do (to prevent a tragedy),” said Solan. “Now, having said that, we are always going to make sure our buildings are as secure as possible.”

The community is currently in the midst of considering a potential multi-year school modernization plan that would see all of the District’s aging infrastructure upgraded. Security is a part of that, Solan said, pointing to the fact that “America in 2022 is very different than America in 1950,” when some of Cheshire’s current schools were built.

“The expectations are very different when you are building a new (facility) now,” he said. “We can better integrate what we want. In older buildings, it’s prohibitive in what we can do.”

However, Solan stated that all school buildings in Cheshire have been upgraded “to the greatest extent we can,” reiterating that the community has made, and continues to make, investing in school safety a top commitment.



 

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