Are Massachusetts Schools Any Safer Since Newtown?

There have been 152 shootings since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

After that shooting, then-Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick convened a task force to make recommendations on how to make schools safer. But more than five years later, and in the wake of two recent deadly school shootings, local school officials say nothing has improved.

“Everybody is making a lot of noise, everybody is wringing their hands, the politicians are saying 'We need to do something, we need to do something,'” said Brad Jackson, superintendent of the Holliston school system.

We last talked to Jackson right after Newtown.

“It is so frustrating that we are back in this room talking about this issue again,” he said.

State Representative Tim Whelan, R-Brewster, is a retired state police sergeant and sat on the task force.

One of the 29 recommendations the task force issued in 2014 was to have a school resource officer in every middle and high school in the state.

Whelan is pushing a bill that would let retired police officers take jobs as SROs. He said Massachusetts is “way behind” in funding school security.

“When it comes down to it, there are so many competing interests for money,” he said.

The NBC10 Boston Investigators sent surveys to every school district in the state asking how many of the recommendations they had implemented in the last four years. About a quarter answered.

Of the 67 responses:

• 30 percent said they don’t have enough SROs;

• 61 percent don’t have a budget line dedicated to school safety;

• 61 percent do not have an anonymous threat reporting system;

• 36 percent don’t have go kits with first aid supplies and emergency procedures in every classroom;

• nearly half have failed to train specific staff members as incident commanders.

Matt Malone has sat on both the state and local sides of the issue. He was the state Secretary of Education and co-chaired the task force.

“We have no excuse anymore,” he said. “We cannot afford to ever not respond.”

Now, he is superintendent of Fall River public schools. His district spends about $1 million on school security each year, but he said they still can’t afford to adopt several task force recommendations.

“Nobody has what they need,” he said.

Jackson said it took Holliston two years to save up for door jams for their classrooms. Any security spending comes at the cost of computers, teacher salaries or class sizes. Some call it a civil rights issue.

“School safety should not go to the communities that can afford it,” he said. “That’s lunacy.”

Gov. Charlie Baker's office said they couldn’t speak to why programs weren’t funded “ a bill signed by the previous administration….”

But a spokesman for the governor pointed out state agencies do offer services recommended by the task force, including state police assisting schools in assessing threats and providing active shooter training and the state procurement office allowing local school systems to purchase services and goods at discounted rates through existing state contracts.

School systems have prioritized active shooter training, according to the survey, and said the value is immeasurable.

But superintendents called those measures reactive, and said districts need more money to be proactive.

One in six superintendents said they don’t have the recommended one psychologist for every 700 students.

“My fear is that I’m going to miss something,” Jackson said. “It’s the student that showed signs they were unstable and considering doing harm to others. I lay awake at night worrying that we miss that kid.”

The state offers grants to address students’ mental health needs, including for combating bullying and for suicide prevention programs. But that amounts to $500,000 in a $39.4 billion state budget.

“I can’t even do the mathematics to tell you what percentage that is,” Jackson said. “But I can assure you it’s point-oh-oh-oh-something.”

In the wake of the Parkland, Florida and Santa Fe, Texas shootings this year, the Massachusetts Senate is set to consider a new budget amendment creating a School Safety Advisory Team, another recommendation from 2014.

That team would focus on advising districts on security issues and providing grants to fund school building improvements.

The recommendations covered things like new door locks, cameras, anti-bullying programs, and at the time the state launched a $250,000 competitive grant program.

But the program was killed the following year when the Baker administration took over. And most of the rest of the recommendations were never funded by the Legislature.

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