Chances of violence have schools jittery
Updated 7:13 pm, Wednesday, February 28, 2018
With students, parents and teachers on edge over school security, administrators are scrambling to ease fears and to respond to reports — some unsubstantiated — of potential violence.
On Wednesday, officials in Milford confronted a social media post that claimed a student at Jonathan Law High School posed a risk.
“After countless hours of investigation, all claims have been disproved and found to be false,” said Milford Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Feser later said.
Still, an increased police presence was expected to remain on the Law campus for a few days.
In Westport on Tuesday, police said they took a Staples High School student into custody whose “thoughts of executing a mass shooting” emerged on social media. Detectives also confiscated “some serious firearms” from the suspect’s home, police said.
And on Wednesday, Southern Connecticut State University student Nicholas Graham was arrested, accused of threatening Fairfield-Ludlowe High School students over Snapchat.
Graham told cops that that the comments came out of emotion and anger, and that he had no intention of harming anyone. He’s charged with second-degree harassment, second-degree threatening and second-degree breach of peace.
“I think every community is nervous and scared,” Fairfield Schools Superintendent Toni Jones said.
Talking it out
In the aftermath of the Feb. 14 high school shooting at Parkland, Fla., that killed 17 people, there have been scares in schools all over the country. Wakefield, Mass., Vero Beach, Fla., Moon Township, Pa., Swain County, N.C.; Dumont, N.J., among others, have seen lock-downs and police responses to reported threats.
In Westport, police said the Staples High student, who wasn’t named, would be charged as a juvenile — he was being kept for now in the Emergency Unit at Norwalk Hospital.
This incident caused Staples to “shelter in place” Tuesday while waiting for the early dismissal bell.
And in Greenwich, an investigation is underway after a written statement about a weapon being brought to a school was allegedly found on Wednesday at Western Middle School. However, the school’s principal said there was no indication an actual treat to the school or student existed.
School officials say it’s better to be safe than sorry. And towns and school districts have been trying to allay the public’s fears through town hall-style meetings.
Fairfield hosted a school safety forum on Wednesday, inviting the local police chief, fire chief and school safety officer. The intent, Jones said, was to have a dialogue and reassure staff, students and parents that security remains the highest priority.
U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, both Connecticut Democrats, are booked to come to Greenwich on Friday to take part in a roundtable discussion on gun violence scheduled for 4:15 p.m. at Town Hall.
On March 7, it will be Trumbull’s turn. Gary Cialfi, the town’s superintendent of schools, said the speaker at that event would be David Bernstein, a forensic psychologist who is an expert in threat assessment and adviser to schools about security.
“Our key points will include the encouragement for everyone in school and out in the community to always be vigilant and that any and all reports of any discomfort or concerns be reported,” Cialfi.
On Tuesday night, when 200 people packed a forum to hear how Shelton public schools were keeping students and staff safe, parents came armed with concerns and suggestions.
“How are all the exits protected?” Alderman David Gidwani asked.
Shelton High Headmaster Beth Smith admitted that’s hard to do, and that alarming side doors is not practical, given how many students get dismissed early.
“We tell your children, and you can reiterate to them, do not open any side doors and let anyone in,” she said. “It happens.”
Former Bridgeport Schools Superintendent James A. Connelly, who has served in several other school districts as an interim superintendent, said that as time goes on, more and more schools will follow Bridgeport’s lead and check students for weapons at the door.
“When we began doing this in Bridgeport, it was because of gang activity, and at first I had second thoughts about it,” he said. “But as time passed, I was glad that we took that step, and more and more school districts will likely make that move.”
Connelly said schools in Connecticut have strengthened security measures since the Sandy Hook shooting in which 20 students and six staff members were killed in 2012. The recent slaughter in Florida will likely prompt others to pick up that pace, he said.
But parents in Bridgeport also say that security measures are sometimes inconsistent.
For some, entering Central High School is like entering a correctional facility, Chaila Robinson, a parent, told the city school board this week.
“It’s strick for some and not for others,” she said.