State Works with N.H. Schools on Security and Safety Recommendations

Aug 14, 2018

Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

New Hampshire schools will begin classes again in just a few weeks, and as they get ready for the year ahead, officials continue to discuss safety and security concerns.

Several schools have made infrastructure upgrades over the summer, and Gov. Chris Sununu’s Safety and Preparedness Task Force released a report in June with their recommendations.

Perry Plummer is the chairman of that task force. He’s also the director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. He spoke with Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley about school security efforts in the upcoming year.

(Editor's note: this transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.)

The task force's report really emphasized social emotional learning programs in schools. Could you give us some examples of those programs?

Obviously the taskforce looked at a lot of things, but really what we found is our biggest success was in the school culture area, and that's that social emotional learning. And when we start looking into the statistics for social emotional learning, it really, really paid dividends, not only in the school culture, but later on in life for the students as well. And social emotional learning is not new. Forms of that have been around for a long time, and those statistics really bear that these programs make a big difference and they will make a big difference in their school culture. And that's really where most of our success will come in schools safety is changing that school culture.

These are taught throughout the day as a part of the curriculum?

That is correct. It's part of the curriculum. There's a number out there some of them are free.

So these programs are almost teaching empathy? Are they anti bullying programs. What do they look like?

They're all the above. It's that social interaction – how to handle your emotions, how to react to other people's emotions. You know we started this program to say how do we make our schools safer? In the first conversation was how do we harden our schools? How do we have more police officers in our schools? And that is a piece of the puzzle, but really what came out of it is that pathway to violence.

Someone has to go through a pathway to violence to get to the point where they attack. And the first thing is the grievance piece. They have a grievance. Something triggers them to go down that path. So social emotional learning and that change in that school culture intervenes there. So that would be the biggest success obviously. But if they get by that and that doesn't work, how do we train our educators and our school staff to recognize the signs that someone's been grieved and they're starting to do research? And how do you intervene there before anybody actually gets hurt? So we want to provide intervention at whatever level, whatever step we can to prevent that crisis from happening.

The emotional piece is one piece of the puzzle, as you said. But of more immediate concern of course is hardening schools. So what are some of the examples of school security upgrades that have been worked on this summer?

There's a difference between the school and Monroe that's an older school with a really slow response time as far as a lot of police officers than downtown Nashua. I mean there's a difference there. So we looked at it and tried to be as liberal as we could about what each school needs. So a lot of it has to do with cameras. Can they see who's coming in and out of their schools? Locks, pass card systems, so the right people are in the schools and the people that shouldn't be in their schools aren't in the schools. Some vestibule, so when someone comes to visit the school, pick a child up or come to cause a school problem, they can't just walk right into the school. It's all those different projects. Each school is kind of looking at their situation and getting help to say what's the best fix for our gap.

And can you tell me about a timeline on this. We are what, three weeks out from school starting in many districts. How are those upgrades been going? What's the progress?

So a lot of these are going on. They are using the off season for school to do some of these constructions. With that being said, some are going to go into next year. There's no question about depending on the scope of the project. But what we want to make sure was first, the applications get out quick. The money was awarded quick and reimbursement happens quick. So we do not want to be the hold up of any project, whether it be a little project, whether it's replacing a couple of doors and locks, or whether it be a full vestibule. We want to make sure that on our end we didn't hold the process up. People have comment how quick all this has been happening.

We wanted actionable items. We have 59 actionable items. We're working on an action plan right now. We've met with state agencies across government to say which piece do you have? How do we supply support to those schools? Because certainly schools are local control. So we're putting training programs together, making them easily accessible, making them high quality so they actually want to sit in the class. And then, build it so it works around their workshop base knowing that that's their culture. So those are the things that we're trying to do. We're trying to provide resources to the schools so they can implement what works for their school. We're also currently working on a one stop shop web page. So if they want to know something about school safety, whether be policies, whether it be resources from vendors, whether it be our grants that are available, they can go to one place and click on that and get all those resources. We're trying to make it as easy as possible because quite frankly that should be our wheelhouse of security. Their wheelhouse is teaching our children.