Two months after a shooting in Uvalde, Texas, left 19 students dead, some Connecticut school districts are considering adding armed security officers on campus.
This school year in particular marks 10 years since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, which prompted universal background checks and expanded the state’s assault weapons ban.
The town of East Hampton is the latest community to push for armed guards in its elementary schools. At a Board of Education public hearing Monday night, about 30 residents came out to take part in the debate, some expressing optimism and others alarm.
“To me it’s a deterrent,” said Superintendent Paul Smith. “I encourage everyone to read the Uvalde report because it reveals that it was that particular shooter’s first time even using a weapon. So for us to have an armed security officer who is used to carrying and firing weapons already is a huge advantage over the typical inexperienced youth mass shooter.”
The high school currently has a retired police officer on site. The superintendent wants to see the same thing happen in the other three district schools, Memorial School, Center Elementary School and East Hampton Middle School.
“Right now because our budget was passed after Uvalde, there’s not a funding source for this at this time. It would require an appropriation from the town to supplement the budget, or if that’s not feasible, we would put it in the budget for September ′23,” Smith said.
If East Hampton does vote to put armed guards in schools, the district will join a growing number of towns looking to beef up security. The districts of Lyme and Old Lyme, Montville and Putnam have already approved security guards or police officers at their schools for the upcoming school year. In New Milford, local police are seeking to hire three additional armed security guards assigned to all of the town’s schools.
Advocates argued that having armed officers can cut down on response time if there is an emergency.
“I am in support of an armed security guard not as just a deterrent but because of how big our town is area-wise,” said Kim Fentress, a mother of a recent graduate and a sophomore at the high school. “If an officer is on call at the outskirts of the town and something happens at Memorial School, our kids have no chance by the time they arrive. This gives them a chance.”
Other parents expressed relief the town is now considering this step and urged the board to not engage in politics.
“The parents who come up and support having armed security in our schools doesn’t make them pro NRA, pro guns, pro Trump or even pro Republican,” said Samuel Cruz, a former police officer who has a daughter at Memorial School and one at East Hampton Middle School. “We are all pro-our children. We want our children to be safe and free from any harm during their school day. Armed security will deter these violent acts from happening here.”
But some parents questioned if bringing guns into schools in any capacity would be a smart decision and what role resource officers would play in enforcing student behavior.
“I want to urge the board to make the role of our resource officers very clear,” said Jordan Werme, a parent of three children in the district. “Noncriminal behavior has to remain the purview of the school staff. The trend of schools with armed security is for teachers to rely heavily on resource officers to enforce school rules, which result in more arrests for age-appropriate and noncriminal behavior. They should only be in schools for one purpose, to stop someone from harming our kids. Otherwise all we are doing is re-enforcing the school-to-prison pipeline, which makes all of us less safe.”
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Some parents said they are mostly concerned about the costs. They say they want to see the money go to mental health resources or explore alternatives options. If the board approves an armed guard, it will cost about $50,000 per guard. If the board decides to go with a police officer, it will cost $100,000.
“Even one armed guard will not be able to solve all of the problems if they happen to be on the other side of the school when someone is coming in from the front,” said Stephanie Heine, a parent of a preschooler at Memorial Elementary School. “They might be able to limit the damage, but that doesn’t mean they will stop the damage. So I would personally like to see other steps taken prior to this until we could draw out other options. The financing is just not there yet. Until then I think this is an easy way out of the bigger problem.”
Some school board members urged more discussion until further action.
“There’s a lot to think about and a lot to weigh in on,” said board member Martha Wick. “There are additional layers to this that still need to be mentioned. We need to look at other resources. Unfortunately it does all come down to money and this is a lot of money that we’re talking about.”
This week the board is also sending out a survey to parents that will ask what school their child attends and if they want armed security. School officials said the results will be shared with the public.
“None of us want to talk about this topic, but it’s the unfortunate world we live in,” said board member August “Augie” Arndt. “We can’t have this ‘it won’t happen to us’ attitude anymore. So this is not just for our children but for our staff. We have to give them a chance. I’m in full support.”
The next Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Aug. 22, at 6:30 p.m. in the Town Hall’s council chambers.