Two N.H. panels will study school safety in the wake of Fla. shooting

Monitor staff
Monday, February 26, 2018

At least two panels will be convened by New Hampshire leaders in the coming weeks to address school safety in the wake of the Parkland, Fla., high school shooting that left 17 dead and sparked renewed national discussion about school security, mental health and gun laws.

Gov. Chris Sununu, in conjunction with state Director of Homeland Security Perry Plummer and Department of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, announced Monday the launch of a “School Safety Preparedness Taskforce.” The group, made up of state leaders, local officials, law enforcement and educators, will help develop “stronger safety protocols for New Hampshire’s schools,” according to the governor’s office.

“We urge schools to be proactive in their communications with parents regarding the safety preparedness steps they are taking,” Sununu said in a statement. “At the same time, schools are strongly encouraged to take advantage of state programs being offered including emergency management grants used to enhance communications between schools and first responders and additional resources available to assist with school preparedness exercises.”

Separately, the National Education Association – New Hampshire, the state’s largest teacher’s union, announced it would bring together a group of its choosing to study gun violence in schools.

“We’re convening a coalition of other education associations, first responders, parent groups, and mental health professionals to offer realistic, meaningful, and responsible answers to school gun violence. It’s time that the voices of those most impacted by school gun violence be heard when it comes to this issue,” NEA-NH President Megan Tuttle said in a statement.

The governor’s task force will build on the work that state Homeland Security and Emergency Management officials did in 2012 to perform in-person physical security assessments that reviewed access control, early detection and notification, and emergency alerts, the governor’s office said.

Since the shooting in Florida, Sununu has steered clear of the gun control conversation, saying Congress was the appropriate place to debate gun laws and that New Hampshire’s laws were fine as-is. He has instead emphasized school safety measures and touted the Public School Infrastructure Fund he created last year.

The fund set aside nearly $19 million from the state’s surplus to pay for fiber connections, life and safety infrastructure repairs, and security upgrades in schools. Nearly $14 million is already committed.

The NEA-NH, for its part, has waded into the political debate, and slammed the idea of arming teachers, which has been backed by the National Rifle Association and President Donald Trump.

“(Educators) don’t want to be armed guards, they don’t support the waste of money it would take to arm them, and they don’t want politicians to offer lip service and half-baked ideas masquerading as concern for students and educators,” Tuttle said.

Concord High principal Tom Sica said he hoped the stakeholder groups would help schools review their safety plans and discuss mental health. And he always said wanted them to talk about the balance between addressing school safety while also making sure campuses didn’t feel like “places that are on lockdown, or police states.”

“There’s a balance there. And I would hope that our schools our remain vibrant places of learning in the midst of meeting these needs,” he said.

As for allowing teachers to bring guns to school, Sica said he was “adamantly opposed.”

“I think it’s fraught with all sorts of complications,” he said.

In Pittsfield, school Superintendent John Freeman said he hopes the panels touch on mental health, collaborations between law enforcement and schools, and the resources schools and their communities have at their disposal.

“Can school resource officers be included in school approval standards? Can we improve response of police departments in communities where police are stressed or understaffed?” he asked. “Is it possible to fund the state Division for Children, Youth and Families to an adequate level so schools can expect quick, effective investigations when reports are made?”

(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or lduffort@cmonitor.com.)