Tracy Heim, a Newtown resident and a St Rose of Lima School parent, appeared before the Connecticut Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee on March 13.
She was there, she said, on behalf of her three children, St Rose of Lima School Principal Mary Maloney, and all of the staff and parents of St Rose.
“I appreciate this opportunity to offer my comments in support of amending Section 9 of Bill 29,” Ms Heim said before the committee in Hartford. “We applaud Governor [Dannel P. Malloy] and the General Assembly for their hard work in 2013 on the school security grant program, and Section 84 Public Act 13-3. Going forward we are respectfully requesting on behalf of all the Catholic schools in Connecticut that the law be amended to allow schools to access grants for school safety and upgraded security measures.”
Ms Heim and Mrs Maloney explained this week that they are asking for the language of the bill to include nonpublic schools, to allow access to grants for all schools in Connecticut.
All students, Ms Heim said, should be treated equally when it comes to safety.
“The feeling that all school-aged children in the state of Connecticut should not be treated equally when it comes to something as basic as security and safety is unacceptable,” said Ms Heim. “We’re not asking for infrastructure. We’re not asking for computers. We’re not asking for text books. We’re just asking for the right to be able to apply… for grants.”
Changing the language to allow all schools to apply for the grants, Mrs Maloney said, would be a large benefit for nonpublic schools without impacting local municipal budgets.
“It would keep us in our own realm to be able to get the funds that we need for our institution,” said Mrs Maloney. “…It could also give us the ability to take funds and mirror what is going on in the town.”
Until this past year, Mrs Maloney said St Rose has never been invited to be included in grants with public schools.
Beyond a $50,000 grant awarded to local nonpublic schools after 12/14, Ms Heim said St Rose has needed to fundraise in order to make the security improvements it has implemented since the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The grants would allow nonpublic schools, Ms Heim said, to offer security measures public schools offer.
According to Ms Heim the request would allow access to the grants for Connecticut’s 113 Catholic schools and all of its nonpublic schools.
Mrs Maloney said some misperceptions also exist that there are funds available for local schools, both private and public, from donations following the events of 12/14 in Sandy Hook. Donations offered following that day, Ms Heim said, were earmarked for specific endeavors and cannot be used for other purposes.
St Rose of Lima School, Ms Heim told the Connecticut Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee on March 13, was directly impacted from the shootings at Sandy Hook School.
“Parents were and continue to be very emotional about the safety measures and lack of similar security [that is] at the public schools,” Ms Heim said. “They are seeking a great deal of counseling as well. Due to funds not being available to the school, only a minimal amount of counseling was provided immediately following the incident. The school has experienced intermittent surfacing of post-traumatic stress symptoms in students, teachers, and our parents.”
Mrs Maloney, Ms Heim told the committee, has also been actively working with local efforts to look into bolstering security at Newtown’s facilities.
But, Ms Heim said, “Due to budget constraints the Town of Newtown will not include St Rose School in the provision of an officer onsite for each of the public schools in our town. A significant portion of our school community finds the presence of police to be comforting and we are looking into our options pertaining to this service. In addition, Newtown will also not provide provisions for security guards at the nonpublic schools in our district.”
Ms Heim further spoke to the extent the St Rose of Lima School community was impacted by the events of 12/14.
“It is without a doubt that grant funding and town allocations have been a tremendous asset to the social, emotional, and building safety needs to our school. Knowing the important impact that these grant funds have on our school the efforts to improve communication with Town of Newtown officials and collaborative efforts of the public and nonpublic schools has had in Newtown I applaud and appreciate that Bill 29 is being proposed,” Ms Heim said.
Director of the Connecticut Federation of Catholic School Parents Mary Roberts, based in Hartford, first notified St Rose a couple weeks ago regarding the matter through a letter asking for support of both the amendment to Section 9 of Senate Bill 29, An Act Authorizing and Adjusting Bonds of the State for Capital Improvements, Transportation and Other Purposes, and also for support of House Bill 5564, An Act Concerning School Safety. Ms Roberts said this week she is grateful Ms Heim and Mrs Maloney have shown dedication in supporting both.
“We feel that we can really make a difference in the lives of students in the nonpublic schools,” Ms Roberts said. “We just want to make sure every school in the state is safe and secure.”
Since legislation began in February, Ms Roberts said the Connecticut Federation of Catholic School Parents has partnered with the Jewish Federation Association of Connecticut (JFACT) to rally support for allowing nonpublic schools access to grants available for public schools.
Newtown State Representative Mitch Bolinsky (R-106) cosponsored House Bill 5564, and said he has been a big supporter of Senate Bill 29 and Senate Bill 119, An Act Concerning The Inclusion of Private and Parochial Schools in the School Security Infrastructure Competitive Grant Program.
He said this week that he is expecting the bills to pass. Last year Mr Bolinsky said a number of mistakes were made when bills were passed, but this year he said is a chance to fix those mistakes.
“It’s the absolute right thing to do,” Mr Bolinsky said. Adding later, “I would be absolutely shocked and devastated if this did not pass, because it absolutely should be done.”
Mr Bolinsky said the legislature values school security and feels everyone is entitled to a public education and having a safe secure environment.