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A Sandy Hook Advisory Commission member reflects on the group's work and years since


Almost 10 years ago, after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the state's governor at the time appointed a group of experts to investigate the attack. That group was the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission. Two years later, it 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 that report. Ron, thank you for doing this.


PFEIFFER: And Ron, I first want to say, I hope you're doing as OK as possible and that you have developed some way, every time there's another school shooting, to brace yourself 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 unbelievable - the day after you contacted me - visceral reaction because what I realized without knowing it, I was sitting back in the exact classroom.

PFEIFFER: This was the classroom when you were in when you found out there was the shooting at Sandy Hook.

CHIVINSKI: Right. And we were in lockdown almost three hours that particular day. So a wave of emotion came over me. So that realization, that moment, it's hard to describe. But, you know, for a second there, I was caught off guard.

PFEIFFER: Well, thank you. Having felt that way, still 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 their students and themselves. Could you give us a general idea of the recommendations you landed on?

CHIVINSKI: Recommendation No. 1 of our report - all classrooms in K-12 schools should be equipped with locked doors that can be locked from the inside by the classroom teacher or substitute teacher.

PFEIFFER: And were there many schools at the time that did not have doors that locked?

CHIVINSKI: My understanding on that fateful day was that a substitute teacher at Sandy Hook was unable to secure her classroom. She was not given a key.

PFEIFFER: So locked doors.

CHIVINSKI: Locked doors.

PFEIFFER: Were there other recommendations as well?

CHIVINSKI: Yes. There was - in the school safety portion of the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission, there was, I believe, well over 20 recommendations to help secure our schools. And there was a fear expressed to not turn our schools into either gated communities or prison-like environments, but to strike a proper balance in new construction and renovations of our schools.

PFEIFFER: So it sounds like a lot of the recommendations were, how does a school make itself less able to be, let's call it, penetrated by someone with a gun?

CHIVINSKI: Absolutely. From entrance ways to cameras, panic buttons, involving the community of all types of first responders, so many ways, you know, to strengthen our security. And again, I believe Connecticut's in a very good place, but I have to ask the question, I mean, how many other schools throughout our nation have embraced some of these, I would argue, best practices? 'Cause that's what we intended this to be - a model for schools across the nation to utilize moving forward. But there is a cost associated with hardening schools.

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

CHIVINSKI: Absolutely.

PFEIFFER: Did your commission recommend that schools have guards or that people on school grounds should be armed?

CHIVINSKI: No, they did not. But if I - you know, in all my time to reflect, if I had to make a recommendation immediately, it would be that all schools have a school resource officer.

PFEIFFER: An armed school resource officer?

CHIVINSKI: I believe so. I think a lot of parents are feeling that. Now, of course, there's best practices out there. It has to be the right type of officer - OK? - with the right type of skill set, the right type of training. And I feel strongly about that, that you need - you need a good guy with a gun, you know, to immediately be there.

PFEIFFER: Do you think that even though in some cases we've seen, as you put it, the good guy with the gun who turns out not to be sure what to do when a shooter shows up?

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

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

CHIVINSKI: Well, it was. But my late father, you know, he was one of the first phone calls. And, you know, my father, he fought in Vietnam, hunter and fisherman his whole life. But he said something that was really jarring. He said, you know, Ronnie, no one should have that many bullets; no guns should be able to be utilized that needs that many bullets. And because of those comments from my father, I felt it was imperative that I try to help move things forward in a positive way.

PFEIFFER: That's Ron Chivinski, a teacher at Newtown Middle School in Connecticut. Ron, thank you.

CHIVINSKI: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sacha Pfeiffer is a correspondent for NPR's Investigations team and an occasional guest host for some of NPR's national shows.
Alejandra Marquez Janse is a producer for NPR's evening news program All Things Considered. She was part of a team that traveled to Uvalde, Texas, months after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary to cover its impact on the community. She also helped script and produce NPR's first bilingual special coverage of the State of the Union – broadcast in Spanish and English.