Life After Sandy Hook: 'This is the New Normal, Unfortunately'

Since the tragic elementary school shooting in Sandy Hook, Monroe joined other school districts across the nation in amping up security.

Supt. of Schools James Agostine stands by three security bollards in front of Monroe Elementary School.
Supt. of Schools James Agostine stands by three security bollards in front of Monroe Elementary School.
Written by Bill Bittar

Soon after the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December, Monroe mobilized into action, organizing meetings with Newtown's school administrators and gaining speedy approvals to open up the Chalk Hill building on Fan Hill Road to use by the students and staff of Sandy Hook.

"I think it's serendipitous that we were in a position to help, that we had a vacant building that was in close proximity to Newtown and the area served by Sandy Hook," Monroe Supt. of Schools James Agostine recalled. "We're just happy the stars aligned and we were able to provide this."

Monroe Public schools lent the assistance of Bruce Lazar — an administrator who used to be principal of Chalk Hill when the town used it as a school — and close to 200 staff members from the district helped set up classrooms. Monroe Police Chief John Salvatore added patrols to secure the campus from distractions while the building was being prepared, then to make families feel safe once classes were back in session.

But the wave of journalists and well-intentioned people trying to offer assistance at the school continued roll in.

Chief John Salvatore said his officers turned away reporters and photographers from as far away as Turkey, England and France. Now with the one-year anniversary of the tragedy this Saturday, the chief anticipates more attempts by outsiders to access school grounds.

"They don't want this attention," Salvatore said of the families. "We cannot forget the event but, in my opinion, it doesn't help for the media to be taking pictures of teachers and students. How does that help us remember? I don't think it helps to descend on that school."

"Our purpose, our mission here on the police department, has been to, as much as possible, have that school assume more of a normal educational environment," Salvatore said. "It's a difficult task with what these families have experienced."

Salvatore said his officers have been nothing but respectable in honoring the Sandy Hook families, but added there is nothing heroic in what they've done.

However, he said, "I'm extremely proud of their professionalism, how they responded to the needs of this school and the safety and security they've provided — and the atmosphere they provide."

Out of Tragedy ... Change

Prior to the Sandy Hook shooting, Agostine said Monroe Public Schools was already working with police on school security, but after the tragedy he said demand rose, leading to even more ambitious efforts. 

Agostine said the concentration was initially on technology upgrades, drills and emergency plans before the incident in Sandy Hook added a stronger focus on facilities.

Monroe's schools have cameras by the entrances, badges for staff to unlock doors and intercoms for members of the public to be buzzed in. Other upgrades include bollards that cars cannot fit between, sallyports and doors with key locks on both sides — the latter was provided through Honeywell energy efficiency projects.

"We were able to pull it off and have it ready for the school year," Agostine said. "And that happened with the support of the community. We had to have an overall plan and we were able to articulate it from the beginning."

A Police Presence

In addition to having a police presence at the new Sandy Hook School, town police are also doing more for Monroe's schools.

"We're adding two SRO's," Salvatore said of school resource officers. "We had asked for three."

The Monroe Police Department also asked for two more dispatchers last budget season and received one more.

Salvatore said changing technology, services and liability issues had already made additional dispatchers a town need. However, it is the dispatchers who monitor screens showing footage from security cameras at the town's schools.

"We always had a good relationship with our school system," Salvatore said. "I think it's made it more of a personal interaction. Officers step into the schools when they have free time."

'The New Normal'

Monroe's students are doing fire drills in a way that was once unheard of ... at lunch time.

"It was too chaotic," Agostine said of the reason not to schedule drills at lunch time. "Now we have to practice for the unexpected."

The school system has a four prong plan: Facilities, technology, police presence and changing behaviors.

An example of the last one, according to Agostine, is to get children out of the habit of opening a locked entrance door when someone is knocking.  

The tragedy on Dec. 14, 2012 has changed the way schools do business. Now Agostine said students and staff must be vigilant when strangers and even parents visit. 

"Even deliveries, you have to be vigilant — closing doors and making sure they're locked," he said. "We don't want to be a prison and in a bubble. On the other hand, student safety is first and foremost."

"This is the new normal, unfortunately — and I don't see it coming back," Agostine said. "We spent the last 30 years trying to get the public to come into our schools. Now we're trying to restrict access."
Ken P. Jr December 14, 2013 at 08:05 AM
The new normal, as its called is like burying our heads in the sand, and the trend continues. It started when we stopped educating about firearms & started pretending they were evil & only uncivilized people would consider using them. It got worse with the passage of gun free school laws which guarantee the Lanzas of the world free reign until they decide its over. Wouldn't it be better if the new normal was us taking responsibility for our safety serious enough to allow the exercising of our basic civil rights in order to stop or prevent these things? Nothing done in the past year makes schools any safer, it can't because everything done was done before anybody saw a report on exactly what did happen. What our legislature did in its knee jerk reaction was render us ALL less safe by restricting the good peoples ability to protect themselves. Just like gun free schools cause, or contribute greatly, to these atrocities, lowering the round count for us renders us less able to protect ourselves at home & abroad. Isn't it time for some real common sense? Isn't the time for laws based on flawed emotional concepts to be overturned? Trust me, those in power KNOW that guns save lives & create a safety net when good people have them. Thats why the police, who needed stretchers & mops more than guns that day, carry them. Its also why as much as Malloy pretends my kids are safe in gun free schools, his gun free zone in Hartford is enforced with armed good guys. The people who founded this country & this state knew the answer. They would have fathers & uncles & other men armed to defend against this sort of totally avoidable tragedy. Instead todays cowards hide behind empty words & promises. And that is exactly what anyone who supports gun control as an answer to violence is, a coward. Children die so people can say they are against violence? How can that be good? This has been a very sad year, made worse by the refusal to actually do any single truly meaningful thing to protect our kids.
MAC December 14, 2013 at 02:41 PM
From Mrs. Parker, mother of Emilie: "'Evil only wins if we allow it to,' Alissa said. 'The world around us wants to remember the violence and horrific details of that day, but instead, we choose to turn off those distractions and allow ourselves to draw as close to her as we can and feel [Emily’s] spirit, joy and light she brought into our family.'"..................................................................... This article is touchingly beautiful and hopeful. It reveals why Emilie Parker was such a beautiful child INSIDE as well as outwardly, and in her joyful and unselfish actions. The Parkers also express gratitude for the small and great acts of 'paying it forward,' such as described here:.............................................. "Last month, a playground in New London, Conn., was named 'Emilie’s Shady Spot' in honor of the first-grader who preferred to play in the shade. Pink roofs adorn jungle gyms and pink monkey bars line the park. Everywhere there are flowers and pieces of Emilie’s artwork...................................................................... "Every so often, the Parkers receive a photograph of the play area from someone in New London who wants to make sure the Parkers don’t miss the sights of children enjoying their daughter’s special place more than 90 minutes away from their home........... "It’s one of 26 playgrounds that will be built across the Constitution State in honor of the Sandy Hook victims."........... http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/57255288-78/emilie-parker-alissa-family.html.csp?............................................................ Well worth the read. Remember those angels, not the violence.


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