Prior to Dec. 14, the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS) had its 2013 agenda set. However, like many others in the K12 education community, on that dreadful day of the shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Conn, CAPSS’ priorities changed. We spoke with Executive Director Joe Cirasuolo about how the association has redirected its efforts this year to focus on helping administrators improve their crisis management systems and strategies to help prevent an attack such as the one in Newtown from happening again.
THE DISTRICT: In light of recent events, how have the association's priorities changed, and what will you be focusing on in 2013?
Joe Cirasuolo: It has made school security and safety a priority where it wasn't even on the radar prior to Newtown. January 7, we cosponsored with the state Department of Education and three other organizations a one-day security symposium. We wanted to get out to our members and others some expert advice on school security. Topics included: What is your crisis management program, and if something happens, do you have a procedure in place at that time and moment? We had representatives from the U.S. Department of Education, as well as national experts on school security there. There were architects talking about school design and an attorney who is a national expert on board policy implications. We received more than 550 advance registrations and we put it together in just two weeks.
Also, the superintendent who was in the district where the Columbine shooting took place, Jane Hammond, recently came in and talked with a group of superintendents about what she learned. She basically said that, for the next year or two, you’re all about security and safety. It’s now the number-one priority.
Have the superintendents come to you with questions and concerns, and if so, can you elaborate on what those are and how you are able to address them?
They want to know what they can do to make their schools more secure and who is out there that can, in essence, audit what they’re doing and give them some recommendations. That’s why we set up the symposium, to answer those questions. We also put all of the experts' material on our website. Superintendents have all had to do some things right away. But there are also some long-term issues that need to be looked at, and that’s really what they were looking for.
Where are some of the discussions being focused?
The basic way we’re looking at it is, there are things you can do that will prevent damage once an armed intruder shows up, such as bullet-proof glass and security personnel. But if that's all we do, that's not enough. We need to prevent these people from showing up. Then if it happens, we need to disarm them. Most schools have some kind of system, but I think Sandy Hook was more rigorous than most. Sandy Hook was almost a model of what you should do. But no matter how good the crisis management system, most importantly, we need to prevent someone from showing up with a gun.
Are you looking at any new types of training for administrators in the area of security?
Yes. There are very few things out there right now. One thing we will do is survey people who attended the symposium and say, 'Here's a list of topics; what topics do you want to look at?' And based on the results, that will decide where we will drill down more in-depth than we did at the symposium.
Adam Lanza attended Sandy Hook Elementary School as a child, but in his later years, he was homeschooled and not fully on the radar. Is there something that can be done to ensure that students who may pose a threat are both identified and properly cared for?
There should be something that prevents a parent from pulling a child out of school who is disturbed and needs help. We must be sure that these people get the treatment they need. But that's a position that is controversial, because under the U.S. Constitution, until kids turn 18, they are the "property" of their parents. I think that’s something that needs to be looked at. I've seen abusive situations where the school made referrals to the appropriate agency but there was no follow-through from the parents. Something needs to be done about that.
Is there anything we haven't talked about that is on your mind?
We need to find some way to keep guns out of the hands of people who are dangerous. That's not just a school issue. Recent incidents in this country took place in movie theaters, shopping malls and a place of worship. In all those instances, a severely disturbed person got access to guns. We can respect Second Amendment rights and still help protect people. To protect the right to life, we may have to curb the rights of gun owners a bit, but if this isn't part of our effort, it's going to continue to happen, not just in schools, but in other places as well.