By KAITLYN NAPLES
Last week Governor Dannel Malloy announced 36 districts will be receiving funding from the Competitive Grant Program for school security as part of the Gun Violence Prevention and Children’s Safety Act.
Even though Bristol was not a recipient in this first-round, it is still going to implement a new safety and security program called PACT 360, which stands for Police and Communities Together.
Superintendent of Schools Ellen Solek said in May, the Citywide School Safety and Security Task Force presented its report to the Board of Education on what measures it should take to increase safety and security at the schools in Bristol. As part of its report, Solek said the task force reiterated how important it is to identify students who may be in need of support, increase police presence, keep a calm and engaging environment at the schools, and also develop relationships between students and staff members.
Police Chief Thomas Grimaldi said the program, which he said is a “DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education)- like” program, will put officers in the school and “really foster relationships with students.”
Grimaldi said the program will not replace the current three school resource officers, one at each high school and one floating among middle schools, in the district, but will serve as a vehicle to get more officers into the schools, particularly the 10 elementary schools.
PACT 360 has several different components, Grimaldi said, in that it has a 40-minute course for students on various topics, and then the rest of the time allows the officers to be present in the classes, cafeteria, out at recess, and walking the halls, meeting the students and staff, and being a positive presence in the school. The program will run through November to May, and officers will visit the schools once per month. The 40-minute course is currently going to be primarily for the fifth grade students, however it may expand in the future.
“We feel it is important to be approachable,” Grimaldi said, adding that he finds students are more receptive to the school resource officers, and are able to approach them if they saw something odd, or know of someone who isn’t acting like himself/herself.
The program “gives extra security, which wasn’t the initial goal, but a positive bi-product,” Grimaldi said, adding the program is designed in a way that it can be molded to the community and localized to cover issues that may be prominent in the schools.
“The program is there,” Grimaldi said. “The bigger benefit is the positive interaction that is happening from it.”
Grimaldi said his officers, and any Board of Education member or school official interested, will take part in a training program in October to become familiar with the PACT 360 program.
Solek said. while Bristol did not receive any funding from the state in its first-round, the district will apply again for round two. She said originally the district submitted a grant application that asked for $45,000 to run the program.
For more information on PACT 360, visit www.pact360.org.
Earlier this year the Citywide School Safety and Security Task Force discussed the current school and city safety procedures, coming up with improvements to make sure nothing like the tragedy that happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December, happens in Bristol. In May, the task force submitted its report that includes observations about current procedures, and a total of 32 recommendations for the board to consider implementing to make the city schools even safer than they already are. That full report is available at the Board of Education offices on Church Street.