Police Presence at Schools: Some Parents Ask for Reassurance

As many students go without recess at school, parents ask the board to ensure police won't be going anywhere.

Amy Roman is glad to see the police presence at schools across Newtown after the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. But she doesn't want them to go anywhere.

She spoke Tuesday night at meetings of the Board of Police Commissioners and the Board of Education, asking both groups to ensure that police presence is sufficient at schools.

A parent of two children at Head O'Meadow School, Roman says the school system was a major reason she moved to Newtown three years ago. She said she's spoken with many parents in the past weeks.

"The parents I spoke to felt continued police presence was pretty much a given," she said at the Board of Police Commissioners meeting. "Based on conversations I've had over last few days with finance and selectmen, it seems nothing with regards to that is a given."

At least two police officers are on the ground at every school in Newtown, according to Superintendent Janet Robinson, and Chalk Hill School in neighboring Monroe — the current location for Sandy Hook Elementary School students — is receiving a special level of presence.

"There's a lot of anxiety around [continued police presence]," Robinson told the board. "You may see the car at the foot of the driveway as a vehicle from another town. Our police at this point don't have the resources to do that, so the other towns are contributing. We're meeting with the police, evaluating, so right now we're going to say it's indefinite. I know some people want to have a stronger commitment, but we'll see where that goes." 

Roman told the board police presence at schools has been on her mind every day — it's one of the main reasons she feels comfortable sending her kids to school.

"It's something we think about every day when we watch our children get on the bus for school," she said. "And we feel it's gone from a want to a need."

The last line drew applause from some other parents in attendance at the Board of Education meeting, where she was one of several parents to offer public comments to the board.

"Going forward, people do want to see permanent police presence at schools," said Michelle Hankin, another parent. "It's unfortunately a new world people are dealing with, and it helps people to learn to feel like they're in a safe environment ... I think a basic human need is security, and security needs have changed."

David Freedman told the board he also came to Newtown for the school system.

"I agree we ought to have police presence," he said, "but we ought to balance it out with the ability for kids to learn, to play, to enjoy being kids without the fear of turning around the corner and having something happen." 

Freedman was bothered by Robinson's report that Newtown's students haven't been getting recess time since the shooting.

"Having kids go on playground is essential," he said. "Please think about the ability to balance police presence, which I'm 1000% for, with the emotional impact of children."

Board of Education Chairman Debbie Leidlein told Patch there's a possibility the level of police presence may change over time.

"Everybody has their recommendations or their belief in what's necessary and what's appropriate," she said. "At this point in time, I believe the level we have is meeting the needs of our faculty, our parents and our students. But that may change. It needs to be an ongoing assessment and an ongoing discussion."

Marci January 10, 2013 at 02:03 PM
As a parent of a 2nd grader as Sandy Hook, I have to say that I'm concerned about a lingering police presence at the school. Like everyone, my primary concern is for the safety of all of the children, however I also don't think it's emotionally healthy for them to see the police and feel that school is a place that is dangerous to the point that it warrants that level of protection. If we do have officers on site in the elementary schools, I hope they will be in plain clothes so that the children will feel that they are no different than the other adults in the building who are their to support their education.
Deana January 10, 2013 at 02:52 PM
I can't even imagine what it is to be in your shoes but does your child understand that the police are there to protect them? My children were happy to see a police officer at school- at made them feel safe. I am praying for your family.
Marci January 10, 2013 at 03:03 PM
Yes, my son knows the police are there to protect them, but I think being so in their face that they need to be protected sends the message that going to school is scary and bad things can happen, which is not how I want any of our kids feel going to school. As I said previously, I'm not opposed to having officers at school if that's the right thing to do, but I hope their presence is largely unnoticeable to the children.
katrina anderson January 10, 2013 at 03:04 PM
I work at a school in town and have been so grateful each morning I see a police car in the parking lot. It makes all the difference in the world. I thank them every day from the bottom of my heart. I know we won't have them forever but while we heal they are a comfort.
Fred January 10, 2013 at 03:10 PM
I have a second grader in the school as well. I hope when emotions settle people realize that your child is safer at school than in the back seat of your moving car. This was not the "new normal", the press does not exploit normal and boy have they exploited this. You need a number way on the left side of the decimal to display the probability of this happening to you. To paraphrase Emily Parker's father, lets not let this event define us. I hope emotions settle down on the parents before finance people have to move things back to a more realistic level of spending. Nobody is going to like hearing this but we cannot afford public schools if it includes continuous security of this level. I was intimately involved and would much rather see the money spent on another teacher than the police. The sooner the press stops exploiting this story the sooner the probability of a copy cat declines. Our children react to us like dime store mood rings on our finger. Easier said than done, but the sooner you relax the sooner your child will.
Marci January 10, 2013 at 03:14 PM
@Fred - If I could "like" your comment on Patch, I would.
Kerri D January 10, 2013 at 03:15 PM
I have 1st and 3rd grade girls and we live in nearby Seymour, exactly 12 miles from Sandy Hook center. On Dec 14th, I remember having my husband immediately go to my own girls school and pick them up, because I was terrified. And my girls weren't even in Sandy Hook. If we had an opportunity for a police presence in my daughters' school, I would be all-for it. I believe if my girls saw a uniformed police officer, they may feel safe but question that they are in danger which causes the officer to need to be present there. I feel confident that my children mirror me enough that they would see my relief due to his presence, and mirror that. Children are taught to react or overreact accordingly as they witness their own parents doing. I think it's the vibe they get from their own parents. If Mom and Dad are cool with the uniformed police officer, the children will follow suit. That is what I believe, anyway, at least w/my own kids and from kids I've seen. Again, though, we do not live in Sandy Hook and I don't have that real experience mixed into my thought processes on this subject. I couldn't say with certainty how I would feel now if that had been the case, and I'm absolutely not implying that my feelings should be the feelings of any other parent out there, from Sandy Hook or not. Just sharing my own opinion, as the mother of two girls that, I thank God, were not in Sandy Hook on that unfortunate day.
Sarah Findley January 10, 2013 at 03:51 PM
Fred, you may not realize that there have been armed resource officers at RIS, NMS and NHS for a long time. I believe the elementary schools should be afforded that same resource. No gun bans, mental health bills or structural security changes to our schools are going to happen overnight. In the meantime the presence of officers provide a deterrent and in a horrible situation extra minutes. The officers at Hawley have been professional yet realize they are among young children. They provide a reassurance which is not intimidating or scary. I am in favor of their continued presence because as a life long resident of this town I can no longer say, "that would never happen here".
Erin Pflaum Nikitchyuk January 10, 2013 at 04:27 PM
My child is a SHS student. I appreciate everything our police, and those from an amazingly broad geographic area have done to support our town, and especially the families of our lost. My son, unprompted, brought up the police presence in school. He said "Mom, sometimes things are seeming really normal for awhile. Then I see the police in our school and it brings all the sad right back." We talked about how many of our kids are very scared and the police make them feel safe. We agreed that we can be sad for awhile so that the other kids will feel safe enough to find normal. He likes the officers personally. But I think their presence is a constant reminder that horrible day and may be a constant visual reminder that none of us truly safe anywhere. I know from my older kids that there are police in the other schools, and that they were there before this happened. I would have to clarify with them, but I think they are more like the resource officers I grew up with - there to do many functions besides guard the front door from "bad guys." Where I grew up, they were in plain clothes and less obviously guarding. I can see having the increased security for quite awhile - especially until the press leaves - but would hate to see our limited public safety resources continue to support the level of police presence at SHS forever. I think it's a false sense of security to think that an officer at the door is more protective than good security measures in general.
AT January 10, 2013 at 05:27 PM
I like the idea of someone there and with a more subtle presence as soon as we feel that is appropriate. My son was at SHS too - right across the hall and saw and heard more than anyone, let alone a child, ever should. And now we struggle with the notion of I can't tell him nothing ever bad will happen anywhere, but I also don't want him to be afraid to go to school, the mall, the movie theatre, on a plane or anywhere else. We try go focus on the fact that there is a lot more good in this world than there is bad... and all we can do is prepare as best we can for things we can control -- we wear seatbelts, we prepare for storms, we mitigate what we can. It is no different than health issues - you can try and do everything right, but parents and kids get sick for no reason, sometimes too sick to ever recover. But you can't stay in bed all day because you might get a brain tumor. We have to live the best we can and do right by ourselves, our loved ones and our community. Be one of the good guys.
Fred January 10, 2013 at 08:11 PM
Sarah - an SRO is a little different than what is going on now - if only in costs alone. Read the town web site description of an SRO - "When needed, assist school security personnel in their mission. Be available to respond to, or offer advice to all schools within the Newtown School District. Will notifiy the Superintendent of Schools relative to local youths arrested for felonious criminal acts." http://www.newtown-ct.gov/public_documents/newtownct_police/Op%20Folder/School%20Resource%20Officer - As far as "never happened" I never said never. I said HIGHLY unlikely. It is nothing new under the sun, poke around, read about Bath, MI's incident in 1927. Either way, I am just letting you know what is to come when the bank accounts catches up to the fellow with the check. If you want to be 100% safe build a compound and hope a meteor does not hit. These costs are not sustainable, it is a simple fact. They are just hoping you calm down before they tell you.
Rhonda Cullens January 10, 2013 at 08:54 PM
My heart breaks for the entire SHS community and I am praying for strength and healing moving forward. In this discussion of police presence at the grade schools, I also believe that much of our attitudes as parents are reflected in our children. Do they see us thank police officers for their service to the community? Do they see us showing them respect? Do they know how much we appreciate we have these "good guys" out there doing their very best to catch any "bad guys"? Back when my oldest son was at SHS, they still had the 5th grade there. D.A.R.E. was part of the 5th grade program back then too and there was a police officer in the building, at least part of the time, teaching that program. All of the kids in the school (K-5) saw him on a regular basis and the younger kids couldn't wait to take his class and get those cool D.A.R.E. t-shirts. We can't forget that the police/security are the "good guys" and they are only there to help all of us. I'm glad we "found money" in our budget for School Resource Officers for RIS, NMS and NHS to protect our students there, but when the 5th grade left our grade schools in 2002, so did any police presence. If only there had been a police officer closer than 5 minutes away on Dec. 14th, maybe things would have been different.
brenda January 10, 2013 at 10:26 PM
I actually know that a lot of parents feel better that they see the police on the school grounds..actually I think the police should have been present at all the schools way before this tragedy happened..to protect and serve painted on the police cars?..well I would rather have my children know the police as a good resource of feeling secure and getting to know them as a good part of the community then to see them as a negative resourse..and really people think that their presents makes childen anxious..pleeze the kids I've seen love to see the officer in the lunch room walking around the play ground and interacting with their day..I would rather have that then what we had befoe which was nothing..what did sandy hook have?...a locked door with a lot of glass?..solid door..better chance..
brenda January 10, 2013 at 10:33 PM
Sorry for the spelling iam using my android phone..lol.
Tony January 11, 2013 at 04:41 AM
I have a 1st grader in HOM. Unfortunately this did happen in Newtown CT and it will always be that way. People who live in this town NOW will fight back and want things to get back to normal. But Newtown is constantly changing. Families leave an move in. If we refuse to implement changes no one will be moving here no matter how much nicer we think it is. I am all for a police presence indefinitely because it happened in our town. If we stop the spending at FFH we can afford the extra costs. Families move to Newtown because of the schools and right now our schools are at risk.
katrina anderson January 11, 2013 at 02:31 PM
I agree Tony. The police presence is not stopping the children from learning and it allows us to relax a bit and get on with our "normal" day. We had an alarm go off yesterday that turned out to be a septic pump thing but while it was loud and may have upped our heart rates a bit, knowing the officers were here made all the difference. My daughter goes to the high school and I imagine that the shooter had to drive by the high school (from Yogananda) that day to get to Sandy Hook. Did he pass it by because of the police presence out front? We may never know but it's something I have thought about since that day...
katrina anderson January 11, 2013 at 02:40 PM
I just wanted to add that the presence of the police in our school that I work in is no more a reminder of that day than all the other good things we are experiencing in Newtown..Bens Bells-love them too but if this tragedy hadn't occured they wouldn't be here either, ditto the 26 acts of kindness and the free movies once a month..etc. etc. If there were no police in our school at this time, there is no way I wouldn't be on edge and no way I wouldn't think about that day ten times more because their being here allows for us to stop worrying about who is entering the building for now-while we heal, while we regain the strength to listen to the logic that we know is true. It's not so much that we think it's about to happen again , at least not intellectually but emotionally (shrug) we need time and they are affording us that time.
Greg Burns January 12, 2013 at 02:22 AM
Parents from every town should be thinking about the level of physical seciurity and security systems in their schools. Sandy hook was just to easy for a gunman to get into with no direct alarm security help call system and no quick use lock down alarm. In addition some kind of additional protection should be used at the schools, armed or not, until the adequacy of school security systems accross the state gets a hard look. What would make us believe that schools in other towns are any safer than sandy hook?? We could have done better at Sandyhook - my house has better security. We must do better elsewhere or suffer history being repeated.
Greg Burns January 12, 2013 at 12:13 PM
Brenda, you made two great points: 1.) We should have been doing a lot more to protect our kids before Sandyhook. 2.) The physical and electronic security at bsandy hook wre pitiful. DO we think it is better at other schools across the State. Our politicians are well protected with physical and armed security. But their focusing their attention on mking laws on guns and magazines owned by law abiding citizens. Criminals and crazies do not obey laws. ANd the schools are STILL NOT SAFE.
Fred January 12, 2013 at 02:23 PM
Do you really think our schools were ever safe? Look at Isreal if you want to see how tough it is to defend yourself when someone is willing to go on a suicide mission. Do you really think there are a number of people willing to go on suicide missions? And even if you think there are - were is the money to pay for all of this? This is nothing new, people were not safer years ago - it has always happened in VERY VERY small number.
Brenda January 24, 2013 at 12:39 PM
At this point, I do not think that I would send my daughter to school unless there were police officers there. The resource officers are not enough. They have offices at the school and are not patrolling the halls and parking lot and doors as much as is needed. We need to all face the fact that this can happen again. Sure, noone wants to have anything happen, that is why we need detterents ad we need to be pro-active. You don't get a second chance.
Newtown Resident and Teacher January 24, 2013 at 01:03 PM
Brenda, School Resource Officers ARE police officers. I can only speak for NHS, but the SRO has an office AND patrols. I see him all over the building.


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