A member of Sandy Hook’s advisory board reflects on the group’s work and the years since: NPR

NPR’s Sacha Pfeiffer speaks with Ron Chivinski, a teacher at Newtown Middle School, about his work serving the Sandy Hook Advisory Board after the mass shooting 10 years ago.



SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Nearly 10 years ago, after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the state’s then-governor appointed a panel of experts to investigate the attack. This group was the Sandy Hook Advisory Board. Two years later, he released a report with policy recommendations on school safety, mental health, and gun violence prevention. One of the members was Ron Chivinski, a teacher at Newtown Middle School. And Ron is now with us to talk about this report. Ron, thanks for doing this.

RON CHIVINSKI: Hi.

PFEIFFER: And Ron, first I want to say, I hope you’re doing as well as you can and have moved on in some way, whenever there’s another school shooting. , to prepare you for, I imagine in some ways, having to relive what happened in Newtown 10 years ago.

CHIVINSKI: Well, a quick little story about this week. You know, sometimes you don’t always keep the same classroom as a teacher, and you move around, you have different places and experiences. But I had an incredible gut reaction – the day after you contacted me – because what I unknowingly realized was sitting in the exact classroom.

PFEIFFER: That was the classroom you were in when you found out there had been a shooting in Sandy Hook.

CHIVINSKY: That’s right. And we were locked up for almost three hours that day. Then a wave of emotion came over me. So this realization, this moment, it’s hard to describe. But, you know, for a second, I was caught off guard.

PFEIFFER: Well, thank you. Having felt this, always agreeing to talk with us, we really appreciate it.

Ron, I understand that your particular job on the commission was to focus on what teachers could do to protect themselves and their students. Could you give us a general idea of ​​the recommendations you came up with?

CHIVINSKI: Recommendation #1 from our report – all classrooms in K-12 schools should have locked doors that can be locked from the inside by the homeroom teacher or substitute teacher.

PFEIFFER: And were there a lot of schools back then that didn’t have locked doors?

CHIVINSKI: I realized on that fateful day that a substitute teacher at Sandy Hook couldn’t secure her class. She did not receive a key.

PFEIFFER: So doors locked.

CHIVINSKI: Doors locked.

PFEIFFER: Were there also other recommendations?

CHIVINSKY: Yes. There were – in the school safety section of the Sandy Hook Advisory Board, there were, I believe, well over 20 recommendations to help keep our schools safe. And there was an expressed fear of turning our schools not into gated communities or prison-like environments, but about finding the right balance in new construction and renovations of our schools.

PFEIFFER: So it seems like a lot of the recommendations were, how does a school make itself less capable of being, let’s say, penetrated by someone with a gun?

CHIVINSKY: Absolutely. From entrances to cameras, panic buttons, involving the community of all types of first responders, so many ways, you know, to make us safer. And again, I believe Connecticut is in a pretty good place, but I have to ask the question, I mean, how many other schools across our country have adopted some of these, I would say, best practices? Because that’s what we wanted it to be – a model for schools across the country to use moving forward. But there is a cost associated with toughening schools.

PFEIFFER: A monetary cost – it was – that it was expensive.

CHIVINSKY: Absolutely.

PFEIFFER: Has your commission recommended that schools have guards or that people on school grounds be armed?

CHIVINSKI: No, they didn’t. But if I – you know, in all my thinking time, if I had to make one recommendation right now, it would be that every school have a school resource officer.

PFEIFFER: An armed school resource officer?

CHIVINSKI: I believe so. I think a lot of parents feel that way. Now, of course, there are best practices. It has to be the right kind of officer – OK? – with the right kind of skills, the right kind of training. And I’m sure you need – you need a good guy with a gun, you know, to be there immediately.

PFEIFFER: Do you think that even though in some cases we have seen, as you say, the good guy with the gun who turns out not to know what to do when a shooter shows up?

CHIVINSKI: Well, again, it comes down to training. And to be honest, they should be scrutinized as extremely if not more than what you do to hire a teacher.

PFEIFFER: Ron, I understand that you originally felt conflicted about joining this commission because you grew up in Pennsylvania in a family where hunting and guns were a big part of your family.

CHIVINSKI: Well, it was. But my late father, you know, he was one of the first to call. And, you know, my dad, he fought in Vietnam, hunter and fisherman all his life. But he said something that was really shocking. He said, you know, Ronnie, nobody should have so many balls; no firearm should be able to be used that requires so many bullets. And because of those comments from my dad, I felt it was imperative that I try to help move things forward in a positive way.

PFEIFFER: This is Ron Chivinski, a teacher at Newtown Middle School in Connecticut. Ron, thank you.

CHIVINSKY: You’re welcome.

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Aurora J. William