Plan to Limit Active Shooter Drills Dropped Following Outcry From Newtown Officials


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HARTFORD — Efforts to lower the required number of crisis response drills in schools were stripped from an education bill after facing strong opposition from Newtown officials.

Supporters of the provision, which reduced the drills from three to one per year, contend the emergency training exercises are traumatizing children. The proposal also prohibited “active shooter simulations” and “crouching and huddling by students” during school safety drills.

“What we’re trying to do is actually be responsive to the federal guidance on this where live shooter simulations in front of children we know are particularly traumatic and not necessarily impactful in promoting student and school safety,” State Rep. Jennifer Leeper, D-Fairfield, said during last week’s public hearing.

But Newtown Police Chief David Kullgren said the proposed restrictions would put lives at risk. Kullgren was one of the first officers on scene at Sandy Hook Elementary School where 20 first-graders and six school employees were shot and killed on Dec. 14, 2012.  The incident remains the deadliest shooting in Connecticut history and the deadliest elementary school shooting in U.S. history.

Kullgren said lockdown drills helped teachers and students perform that day, resulting in lives saved. 

“The actions of those teachers allowed my staff and I to focus on the emergency at hand and not to corral teachers and students who didn’t know what to do. I believe it would be irresponsible to put blanket limits on any board of education on how it trains its teachers and staff,” Kullgren said. “Communities are different from one to another, and grade levels are different from one to another. Any restriction on training will reduce the likelihood of survival.” 

The state Department of Education also raised concerns that the “broad changes” in mandated crisis response drills could jeopardize school safety. 

“Broadcasting that Connecticut schools do not prepare for gun violence in schools or other threats inside of school buildings is potentially very dangerous,” Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker. 

Leeper said the proposal balances school safety with student well-being, and that districts are not prevented from conducting additional safety drills in their schools.  

“Currently what we have on the books now is a two-sentence statute about how we prepare for emergencies, and we’re trying to actually be more thoughtful and strategic about how we do that,” she said. “I feel it’s unfortunate this language has been interpreted to reduce our districts’ and communities’ and law enforcement’s ability to respond to these horrific emergencies.” 

Last year, the state directed the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection to conduct a study of the effectiveness of crisis response drills in public schools and their impact on children’s mental health. The results are expected by the end of the school year.  

State Rep. Mitch Bolinsky, R-Newtown, said it was premature to change the nature and frequency of crisis response drills in schools before the mandated study is completed. He lamented that Newtown officials were not consulted about the legislation of which he had “grave concerns.”

“I come from a place that has experienced something that no town in the world should ever have to experience. I have a higher responsibility to not take chances with the lives of children.  This proposal takes chances with the lives of children,” he said.  

A similar attempt to limit the number of state-mandated school safety drills failed last year as well.

In a statement posted on his legislative website, Bolinksy praised the decision by the Education Committee leadership to strike the controversial provisions. 

“While I am very thankful to the committee that this proposal is off the table for the second time in two years, I’m very, very concerned about why it was here in the first place, how it reappeared so quietly, and the way it seemed to have been hidden in a large, unrelated committee bill,” he said. “I’d still like to know why the proponents seem so dedicated to taking these drills out of the hands of professional stakeholders who’ve worked for eleven-plus years on establishing the best-practices behind these drills.”