Armed guards, expanded alternative program among changes in Region 16

Renovations were made this summer to the annex at the Region 16 district office Coer Road in Prospect, including to this classroom. The annex will be the new home of the Helping All Woodland Kids Succeed (HAWKS) alternative education program, which is for students from Woodland Regional High School. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

PROSPECT — Armed guards and a new model for alternative education are two of the largest changes in store in Region 16 when schools open next week.

The first day of school in the region, which is comprised of Beacon Falls and Prospect, is Monday.

Officials, including officers from the police departments in both towns, interviewed five applicants for the armed guard jobs last week, Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin said. Two people were offered and accepted positions as armed guards as of last Wednesday, Yamin said, adding that had had phone calls out to other candidates.

“We’re hoping to be fully staffed by the first day of school,” Yamin told the Board of Education in regards to the armed guards.

Officials are looking to have at least four people hired for the armed guard jobs by the time school starts, Yamin said. This would allow to have armed security in place to cover Prospect Elementary School, Laurel Ledge Elementary School and Long River Middle School.

One of the three people already working as a security guard at Woodland Regional High School meets the state requirements for armed personnel on school grounds and will be the school’s armed guard when school starts, Yamin said.

Yamin said the process of hiring armed guards is going to be a work in progress, adding he would like to create a pool of substitute guards who can fill in if someone is out.

School officials started looking into hiring armed guards following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. in February.

State law passed after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown in 2012 requires armed personnel on school grounds to be either police officers that retired in good standing or active police officers. They must also complete yearly training, under the law.

Aside from being the first responder to emergencies, like an active shooter on school grounds, the armed guards have similar responsibilities to the unarmed guards at Woodland, including monitoring school grounds.

The armed guards, which are are Region 16 employees and will wear Region 16 uniforms, have the authority to detain people — but not arrest them — and then turn that person over to police.

The armed guards will carry their own personal weapon. They have to meet all the requirements to do so under the law and have all the necessary certifications.

While officials hoped to have the guards all set come Monday, the district will definitely be ready to roll out a new set up for its alternative education program for high school students on the first day.

The Helping All Woodland Kids Succeed (HAWKS) alternative program at Woodland has been in place since 2013. The program previously ran after school at Woodland.

Recent changes to state requirements, which focused on expelled students, mandate students in alternative programs receive a comparable amount of instructional hours to students in traditional school settings.

After weighing their options, school officials decided to move the alternative program to the annex at the district office on Coer Road and expand the program’s hours.

The annex used to be the kindergarten wing of the former Algonquin School. Renovations to the building to make it suitable to host the program, including making the bathrooms handicap-accessible, are finished, Yamin said. He said the renovations cost about $80,000 or less.

Yamin said a new special education teacher, which will split time between the program and Long River Middle School, has been hired. Teachers from the district will teach core classes to students in the program and be paid a stipend.

Officials have also ironed out the schedule for the program. It will run Monday through Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Yamin said. Fridays will be a “flex day” for students. The flex day is designed to give students options, including doing an internship, community service or attending class, on Fridays.

As the first day approaches, Yamin said all of the certified staff positions in the district, with the exception of a physical education teacher at Prospect Elementary School, have been filled.

“Other than [the physical education teacher]. We’re ready to go,” he said.