Forum at SHS discusses keeping schools safe

Residents concerned with the safety of schools across the country, and even more so within the district, packed the Shelton High School auditorium Tuesday night to discuss the plans currently in place to keep students and staff safe in the case of an active shooter or potential threat.

Superintendent Dr. Chris Clouet opened up the forum by highlighting the importance of members of the Board of Ed, law enforcement, and the community coming together to communicate.

Clouet also clarified that the purpose of the forum was not to debate gun control versus mental health access but to assure everyone that the district’s staff is trained and the school buildings are well protected.

Board of Ed Chairman Mark Holden admitted to the hundreds of concerned residents attending the forum that the Shelton school district is much like others across the country and doesn’t have all of the answers on how to address potential crises in the future.

“But I can tell you that Shelton has been very serious about security, particularly since the tragedy in Newtown. Great things happen when the city and the Board of Education work together,” said Holden.

School Security Director Ben Trabka defended Holden’s claim that the district has upped its security measures since the school shooting in Connecticut back in 2012 that killed 26 people.  He said most of the district’s current security guards are former police officers or from other areas of law enforcement in order to make sure the staff charged with protecting the buildings have valuable experience.

Shelton police Lt. Robert Kozlowsky, who is also an ALICE (active shooter training) instructor, said aside from all his job titles his reason for going to the forum to speak to the residents was that he is also a parent of students within the school system.

“I am speaking to you as a father of two children,” said Kozlowsky. “Knowing the tools, training, and procedures that are in place for Shelton police officers, its staff, I can tell you that I feel comfortable sending my kids to school every day. … Officers have been engaging with children and building positive relationships, which are key factors in identifying and assisting potential at-risk youth. We have talked with kids during lunch, participated in Jump Rope for Heart, and will be reading to kids this upcoming week.”

Kozlowsky said police have increased patrol checks to an average of 50 per day and are making an effort to maintain a presence within the schools.

Kozlowsky assured residents in attendance that he had personally helped to train many of the school’s staff members in active shooter situations to prepare them to fight back, rather than just hide and hope they remain safe.

Trabka said they begin training students once they reach the Intermediate School because the district’s security team believes that alerting elementary students will cause more harm than good.

“The last thing we want to do is just scare the kids — a lot of this goes right over their heads,” said Trabka. “Instead, we thoroughly train their teachers so that they can help to keep themselves and the students safe.”

Shelton High School Headmaster Dr. Beth Smith said she emphasizes the importance of maintaining an active relationship with the city’s police department within the high school. She said there is always an “open door policy” for police at the high school as well in order to keep all officers familiar with the layout of the building in case of a threat or a need for action.

Trabka and Smith discussed only in general terms the police and security measures the district has undertaken so far, but would not go into detail in an effort to keep the information out of the hands of those who might pose a potential threat.

Trabka went on to say that the district does have new camera systems in all of the schools that are monitored from the schools and police station, as well as in the Board of Education’s central office. According to Trabka, the district used grants to pay for the camera system four years ago.

He asked residents and parents to practice patience with security when they’re looking to enter one of the schools within the district.

“They’re just doing it because it’s their job to protect the schools, and they need to be able to assure that the right people can get into the school and the wrong people can’t,” said Trabka.

Smith said the most important skill the district can teach people is how to keep safe in a situation where there is a threat.

Junior Caitlin Kelley, a Student Council representative at Shelton High School, said the student body plans to hold a student walkout on March 14 to show their support for the students in Parkland, Fla.

“It should’ve ended with Sandy Hook, but it didn’t, and now we’re here to talk about things and get the job done,” said Kelley.

Kozlowsky closed his brief speech to the crowd by stating that preventing future tragedies in any location comes from communities working together and people doing their part. He asked for parents to have conversations with their kids, and inform them that police and school officials will not tolerate threats of any kinds.

“Whether it’s in person or on social media, it will be investigated and it could lead to an arrest,” said Kozlowsky.