Commentary: A Plea for Increased Security at Barlow, From a Former Student

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I sat on the cold tile floor, huddled in the closet of Joel Barlow High School with sixteen of my classmates. My teacher cried and armed us each with glass beakers; we were in science class. He tearfully explained, “for defense…just in case.” This was the Monday after twenty first graders and six adults were brutally shot down in their elementary school classrooms, in an event that left the world stunned by a crime unprecedented in its horror. We were on lockdown for reports of a man with a gun; it was a false alarm, but tensions were high. The Friday before, I did the exact same thing; I sat on the cold tile floor, huddled with my classmates, checking news updates on our phones; reports that 26 people were slaughtered in cold blood. They were being murdered in their place of learning, just 11 short miles away from where we currently sat.

The events that took place in December 2012 have shaped me as a person, and shaped my entire experience as a student at Barlow. I was a freshman at JBHS in 2012, and since those two days in December, I have never felt safe in that building. That being said, I knew that Joel Barlow would step up and make changes. I knew that Connecticut as a state, would come together, and work to prevent another tragedy like this; how could we not? It happened in our own backyard. To our neighbors. To our friends. To the teams our kids play sports against. To the parents we grocery shop with. To the families who live on roads we drive everyday, and to the town we love to visit in the summer for their famous ice cream.

But I was wrong. Joel Barlow never stepped up. They never took action. They never made a change. They failed me. They failed all of their students.

Security and safety are the cornerstone of learning; you cannot learn if you do not feel safe. And I never felt truly safe at Joel Barlow. I never felt as safe as I should have given the severity of a situation so close to home. Now, five years after the Sandy Hook massacre that so greatly affected our community, we sit and mourn yet another school shooting. I am absolutely disgusted, and disheartened by the lack of change that my community has made in protecting our town’s most vulnerable, and I demand change.

Joel Barlow currently employs three security staff members during the day, with one on duty at night, but no one at the school is trained as a police officer, none of the security guards carry weapons, and the school does not have a school resource officer. I am calling for immediate change and action. Following Sandy Hook, an armed officer and an SRO was sent to both the elementary schools, and the middle schools, but not the high school. Why? Why aren’t all of our students being protected? Why aren’t all of our student’s granted the right to feel safe at school? Why are we picking and choosing?

School Superintendent Thomas McMorran said he believes the current security structure in place at Barlow is sufficient, but I disagree. As a student at Joel Barlow, I continued to watch a group of guards continuously follow the same handful of “troublemakers” to and from the bathroom; often leaving their guard station. I continued to watch my classmates walk in and out of the building during school hours, when they were not supposed to, with no questions asked; no one knew that they were leaving and entering. I also continued to watch faulty, desensitized lockdown drills be treated like complete jokes. I recall drills where teachers broke protocol and continued teaching, and I even had a drill in which a substitute teacher didn’t know how to lock the door. What if that had been a real, active-shooter situation?

We are a town that prides ourselves in our school system, yet we are failing to provide our high school students with the basic safety, comfort, and support that we provide to the rest of our school systems. It is absolutely imperative that Joel Barlow steps up and takes necessary actions to further protect its students by adding an armed officer, and SRO to its security plan, while also reviewing outdated lockdown protocols, and re-training faculty members. This has been an issue that has been ignored for far too long, and I am more than ready for the safety of our high schoolers to be taken seriously.

-Amanda Duffy