After Newtown

New focus on security and armed guards in the wake of Connecticut shooting


More schools are hiring armed guards to protect their students in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting.

Officials in states as diverse as Texas, Washington state, Connecticut, New Jersey, Utah, and Virginia have taken steps in the last week to either hire armed guards for the first time or beef up their security presence in schools.

“Newtown was a game-changer,” said Seven Van Matre, superintendent of the Sinton Independent School District in Texas. “Mainly, I see it as more of a deterrent more than anything.”  He said if someone was planning to enter one of the Sinton schools in Sinton, they now know “if they come in with a gun, they will be met with a gun.”

Four armed security guards are part of a comprehensive security plan adopted by Sinton in the wake of the Newtown shooting. The school previously had one off-duty armed officer patrolling all schools two to three times a week but now has hired four armed security guards, VanMatre said.

Democrats in Washington are more focused on gun control than placing guards in schools.

Legislation introduced last week by Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.) and Dianne Feinstein, (D., Calif.) seek to restrict rounds in magazines, ban 157 different firearms, require background checks for sales and transfers of grandfathered assault weapons, and require background checks for purchasers at gun shows.

However, school officials and parents believe armed officers or security guards make schools safer.

The Ridgefield School District in Seattle also hired armed guards last week and its three campuses will now have an armed security guard manning the halls.

Additionally, the North Branford Town Council in Connecticut approved armed security officers in its public schools and officers will begin next week.

The school board at Plano Independent School District in Texas is considering various security options, included armed officers, and a decision is expected in the next 60 days, according to superintendent Richard Matkin. Though the Associated Press reported that Plano endorsed armed guards, Matkin said that was not the case.

“The board did not approve armed security guards.  We had a board report that laid out various options that the board might consider at a future time.  Due to cost and the capacity of Plano PD [police department], I discussed going out for bid this contracted service.  I was very direct that the district needed more security personnel presence,” Matkin said in an email.

According to Matkin, state legislation was introduced on Thursday to allow schools to fund peace officers through a special local tax. “This would definitely influence a decision to go with peace officers to take advantage of this legislation, if it passes,” he said.

Englewood Cliffs, Woodland Park, and Bridgewater school districts in New Jersey all recommended hiring armed guards last week. In Bridgewater, additional funding for security was requested in the school’s annual budget, $100,000 of which would be for armed officers.

School districts are attempting a variety of methods to entice police officers to pay more attention to schools. The Quest Academy, a charter school in Utah, recently created a program called Cop Stop.

“Our Cop Stop Program provides drinks and refreshments for any uniformed police officer that stops by our school. The program has been very successful. We have several officers each day that take advantage of this program. Students, parents, and staff feel an increased sense of safety and the officers are developing a terrific relationship with the students,” principal Lani Rounds wrote in an email.

The school, like others, has also reviewed its safety procedures.

“Quest conducts safety drills each month. These drills include lockdown drills to assure staff and students know what to do in the event an intruder is in the school or on school grounds. We have practiced these drills all year, both before and after the Sandy Hook incident,” Rounds said.

Virginia Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell formed a task force to recommend safety measures for schools. Education, mental health, and public safety officials are all serving on the task force, which is expected to make its initial recommendations in the next week. One of its responsibilities includes identifying “ways to improve and expand the use of school resource officers and school security officers in Virginia’s public schools.”

A Virginia House of Delegates committee approved a measure last Friday allowing private schools and day care centers to hire armed security guards. Currently, only public schools are allowed by law to hire armed officers.

Hiring armed guards at schools was a notion set forth by the NRA president after the Newtown shooting. But Lautenberg claimed the NRA leadership was not in touch with the American public, and their objective was to sell more guns and not protect children.

“The NRA leadership is wildly out of touch with its own members, responsible gun owners, and the American public who want to close dangerous loopholes and enact common-sense gun safety reform,” Lautenberg said in a release. “It is clear that their real priority is to help gun manufacturers sell more guns—not to protect our children or Americans’ rights. The extreme rhetoric of Wayne LaPierre and the NRA is disturbing and dangerous, and will only exacerbate America’s deadly culture of gun violence.”

The school officials reached by the Free Beacon reported parents were mostly supportive of the changes despite Lautenberg’s rhetoric.

VanMatre said the parents of his district are “fully embracing the idea of guns in school.” If a better option to protect students is presented, he will consider it. “I wish I could focus entirely on teaching and learning, but that’s not the case.”

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