MADISON — The Board of Education voted unanimously last week to add additional armed security guards to the school’s security personnel for the 2022-23 school year.
The district previously employed five unarmed “security specialists” spread across the district’s five schools, and two armed school resource officers. At a meeting on August 23, Superintendent Craig Cooke told the Board of Education that the district wanted to hire an additional two full-time positions, both armed.
Cooke told the board that the conversations about increased security at the schools were “ongoing” but that the conversation about arming security specialists had begun last May.
Madison is not the only district that has moved toward armed security personnel. In the aftermath of a shooting in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24 that killed 19 students and two adults, districts have ramped up security. New Milford voted to add an additional three armed security guards in June, according to the NewsTimes, and Killingly voted two weeks ago to hire five armed security guards, according to NBC Connecticut.
On the shoreline, Lyme-Old Lyme Schools voted to arm its security guards in June.
In Madison’s proposal, which WNTH outlines, two retired officers from the Madison Police Department will split the position of armed security official on the North Campus, which includes Ryerson Elementary School and Brown Intermediate School. The officers will also split the SRO position at those schools. Both the officers — Officer Twohill and Officer Bull — worked in the schools part-time last year.
On the South Campus, Officer Baxter, who retired from the Madison Police Department in 2020, will act as an armed security guard at Polson Middle School and Jeffrey Elementary School. Additionally, two of the security specialists who last year served at Daniel Hand High School will be armed this coming year. Cooke said that one of the specialists was a former School Resource Officer in Middletown and the other was a youth officer.
In addition to the armed “security specialists,” the schools will also keep the unarmed security personnel who worked at the district last year. Student Resource Officer Bob O’Neill will also remain SRO for Daniel Hand, Polson and Jeffrey.
Cooke told CT Examiner that the district was always looking for ways to increase security, and the opportunity arose because of recently retired police officers who were interested in taking the positions.
“I really believe increasing our security is a deterrent to anyone entering our campuses with the intent of causing harm,” Cooke told CT Examiner.
Lieutenant Jeremy Yorke, administrative officer at the Madison Police Department, told CT Examiner that having armed security guards was “basically an upgrade” of the security practices that the school district already had.
“I think the chief and police and the superintendent just came to the decision that based on the events that you’ve evolved in all these incidents that happen around the country, it would be a good idea,” he said.
Board of Education Chair Seth Klaskin told the board that the district planned to treat the addition of armed guards as an extension of the SRO program, which the district instituted nearly 10 years ago in the aftermath of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The armed security guards, he said, would receive SRO training and would be selected based on their abilities to work with children.
“Because we have the empirical evidence of our experience over nine-and-a-half years, when we were faced with the opportunity to get federal [funding through the state] and grant money to help us out, it really made sense for us to talk about expanding a version of that program,” said Klaskin.
Yorke said that the security personnel at the school would undergo the same firearms training that the Madison police officers do two to three times a year. He said the officers would also have to take an eight-hour course that the Connecticut Police Academy runs addressing topics like gangs, drugs, prevention of sexual harassment, mandated reporting and how to communicate with young people.
Klaskin said that the officers would be on the campuses for community relations, education and for security reasons, not for disciplining students.
“Our officers don’t come into school looking to bust kids for things,” said Klaskin. “If there’s a school fight, that’s handled through discipline at the school. There has not been an experience of untoward arrests or searches and seizures, which were some of the concerns I had 10 years ago, and I have been very satisfied since then that the program has been a success.”
Cooke said that the officers would not be in charge of school discipline, but that they could assist at the direction of the school principals, if necessary.
The vote is contingent on the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Finance making a special appropriation to cover the additional salary costs and the one-time “start-up costs” for purchasing ammunition, firearms and uniforms — a total of about $130,800 for the first year.
Cooke said at the meeting that he hoped the costs could be later covered by grant funding that the district planned to apply for. But he said he was asking the board to vote on an appropriation now so they could have the positions in place this year.
“I think we’ve sent the message to the community that these are important positions for us. To not have them in place for day one would have been difficult,” said Cooke.
The Madison Police Department will cover the cost of training and radios for communication with the police. Yorke said the radios would allow for direct contact with the Police Department in the case of an event like a shooting or suspicious activity.
Board member Emily Rosenthal said she felt interactions with the police at the schools were overwhelmingly positive, and that they did other things besides security, like managing the traffic at pick-up and drop-off.
Board member Diane Infantine-Vyce said she felt having positive interactions with the police at a young age would set them up to understand that the police were the people to call if they needed help.
“I think the most important asset is really fostering that good relationship between the police officers and the children so they see them not as someone who is authoritative or disciplinary, but as someone who helps and is a friend,” she said. “I think that will go a long way in their future.”
Board member Jennifer Gordon said that she was happy the district would have both male and female officers, and said that at the high school level, police officers could provide an example of an additional career path they could take, and be“an extra set of ears.”
“I think there are a lot of really positive aspects to this program overall,” she said.
First Selectman Peggy Lyons praised the partnership between the schools and the police department on security.
“As we continue to witness disturbing and deadly acts of violence at schools across the nation, the Town is understanding and supportive of the District’s desire to enhance security at each of its facilities and maintain a safe environment for students and staff,” Lyons wrote in an email.
Lyons said the Board of Selectman planned to vote on the issue at its September 13 meeting.