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Newtown Stands United Against Attempt to Limit Crisis Drills in Schools

Posted on March 14, 2024


HARTFORD- On Monday, Newtown officials came to the State Capitol in full force opposing a proposal in the Education Committee that limits crisis drills for students in Connecticut schools. Both State Reps. Mitch Bolinsky (R-106) and Martin Foncello (R-107), who sit on the Education Committee, heard testimony from Newtown First Selectman Jeffrey Capeci, Newtown Police Chief David Kullgren and Newtown School Superintendent Christopher Melillo on how valuable having crisis drills in schools are for students, staff and law enforcement.

The legislation, HB-5416, (sec. 4), An Act Concerning Various Revisions to the Education Statutes changes policy while a study and full examination of crisis drills is currently underway by the State Department of Education and instead seeks to reduce crisis drills for public school students from current school safety statutes from one every three months in school-year, or from three, to one per year, with a second, staff-only drill.  The bill also requires public notification.

Rep. Bolinsky said, “This has been a two-year effort on the part of this proposal’s proponents that hasn’t included ‘official’ Newtown Public Schools, Police, Municipal and Legislative leadership in matters about which, no community in Connecticut has more practical knowledge, real-world experience, and wisdom in development of best practices.  On each occasion that I’ve learned of proposed changes to state policy that’s been in place since the legislature’s Sandy Hook Task Force’s School-Safety Subcommittee enacted this and other school safety standards for the state, I’ve challenged the proponents of this and the last bill, asking whether the expertise of Newtown’s Superintendent of Schools, it’s Chief of Police, and First Selectman, or their trusted partners in the Department of Homeland Security, the Connecticut State Police, and private-sector specialists with real-world best practice development experience, have been engaged, I’ve been told “We have Newtown’s support.”  Each time, upon checking, my local officials had no knowledge of any effort to change the law on drills.  Look, I’m sure this effort had some good intentions but, c’mon, how does it bypass the experience only we have, here?  I’m not the expert but, the well-being and safety of everyone, especially the children, teachers, and others in our schools is something I think about it every minute of every day. I ended by expressing my ‘grave concerns’ and demanding the committee hit the pause button until it, or whomever thought cutting drills was a good idea, engages those who understand this, here in Newtown.”

“Training plays a crucial role in enhancing school security. I’d like to see this bill amended to require the advice of subject matter experts at the US Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice (DOJ)/Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) be followed to ensure that we can protect the lives of our students and teachers,” said Foncello. “The Federal agencies recommend that the drills be conducted monthly so that student responses will become second nature to them. Students will also master the skills required to protect themselves in an emergency and come to appreciate the work being done by the First Responders and understand that they are there to help ensure their safety,” added Foncello.

Newtown Chief of Police David Kullgren testified at the public hearing: ‘Communities are different from one another and there are vast differences from grade to grade. Any restriction on training will reduce the likelihood of the survival of our staff and students. This decision should be left up to individual communities.”

Both Newtown First Selectman Jeffrey Capeci and Newtown School Superintendent Christopher Melillo echoed Chief Kullgren opposition to limiting Newtown’s ability to have school crisis drills.

The Commissioner State Department of Education Charlene M. Russell-Tucker submitted testimony stating, “This section…. removes the review and evaluation of such drills by local public safety officials. We believe that local public safety officials’ review of the results is critical to make improvements as necessary…. We believe that working together with the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection (DESPP) and our schools, we can continue to address the emotional well-being of all students through trauma-informed practices. Broadcasting that Connecticut schools do not prepare for gun violence in schools or other threats inside of school buildings, however, is potentially very dangerous. Additionally, such broad changes to the scope of emergency drills in schools, the development and implementation of guidance on such drills, and the subsequent revisions to School Security and Safety Plans, will need additional time to implement. We respectfully request that the implementation begin with the school year beginning July 1, 2025.”

Newtown’s Representatives agreed that policy-change like this, before the Department’s study concludes, would be a better starting point.

Also submitting testimony was Newtown Board of Education member Donald Ramsey saying ‘Safety protocols should not be modified at this time because our Superintendent and Chief of Police have not been consulted here in Newtown. Muscle memory is paramount; therefore, students and staff should practice various drills with existing frequency without modification to the laws governing such things at this time.’