WCSU school crisis prevention force gets $360K federal grant | #schoolsaftey

DANBURY — A fledgling school crisis prevention group headquartered at Western Connecticut State University has received a $360,000 federal grant to expand safety training it provides to the state’s public schools.

“We’re not just looking at the physical safety of the school but the psychological safety,” says Amery Bernhardt, director of the Connecticut Center for School Safety and Crisis Preparation, a group founded at WCSU’s downtown Danbury campus in 2022. “If someone says they are going to shoot up a school we are not only going to adopt a zero-tolerance policy …but also look into why the particular person is making that threat and what has led up to it.”

The two-year grant from the federal Department of Homeland Security, which is part of $20 million in violence and terrorism prevention funding to groups across the country, will be used in greater Danbury and across Connecticut to help teachers and educators identify school-based threats and intervene before it’s too late.

Part of the federal grant will be used by the WCSU center to join with an organization called Safer Schools Together to “help districts build capacity to investigate digital threats on social media platforms and help students and parents identify the risks of cyber threats.”

If it sounds similar to the free nationwide program “Say Something” developed by the Newtown homegrown nonprofit Sandy Hook Promise, it is. That program teaches middle and high school students the early signs that a peer is about to commit harm, and how to intervene.

“It’s great what Sandy Hook Promise is doing,” said Bernhardt, a retired New York police sergeant with a master’s degree in homeland security. “We are more focused on forming that multidisciplinary team.”

The Connecticut Center for School Safety and Crisis Preparation, which got started in 2022 on a $2 million state grant, has been building its framework and conducting research over the past year in the increasingly crowded and complex field of school security.

The center now has four regional crisis teams that respond to help districts that are overwhelmed with a tragedy — such as the sudden death of a student.

“We have had six deployments — most of them deaths to students; things that can overwhelm the district,” Bernhardt said. “(Crisis teams are) part of our backbone. I would like to get more membership into those teams.”

The WCSU center is also doing research, having administered a survey about school safety and security earlier this year.

The center is working on a report about why more Connecticut students are bringing weapons to school.

“We’ve finished collecting data about why students are bringing weapons to school and what the administrators are doing about it,” said Bernhardt, saying it was too soon to share results. “We are going through all that data, which will come out in a technical report soon.”

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