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Florida shooting

Students at Northport High School sat silently for 17 minutes during the national walkout. Photo from Aidan Bryant

Hundreds of Northport High School students walked out March 14 in hopes that their actions would speak louder than words.

Senior Ryan Dowling, student organizer of the walkout to pay tribute to the Parkland, Florida students and faculty killed in the school shooting one month ago, said she estimated between 200 to 300 students quietly left the building to sit in the front courtyard at 10 a.m. Wednesday morning in unified action with thousands across the country.

Students at Northport High School sat silently for 17 minutes during the national walkout. Photo from Juliana Conforti

“We decided that 17 minutes of silence was the best way to go,” Dowling said. “The point was to remember the 17 lives that were lost and to show we didn’t have to say anything to make our voices heard.”

There were no speeches given, no chanting and no homemade signs calling for gun control or legislation. Only a singular black banner with the word “Enough” written across it in white duct tape stood with the students. Those who didn’t walkout were seen photographing and videotaping the event from classroom windows, according to Dowling.

“I think that everyone was respectful and mature about it,” student participant Samantha Sanuki said. “I had a fear of it becoming political with those who disagreed with the walkout — those people who were sharing their political views.”

On their way back inside the building, Dowling and Sanuki said the participants encountered other students holding Trump banners or wearing pro-Trump T-shirts. Both say the atmosphere remained largely respectful in attempt to not disrupt those classes still in session.

Students at Northport High School gather outside the school during the national walkout. Photo from Juliana Conforti

Superintendent Robert Banzer and high school principal Daniel Danbusky had a meeting with the student organizers of the walkout prior to March 14, in which any student who considered participating was initially warned they could face up to three-day suspension for walking out without permission, according to Dowling.

“My parents were supportive of me when I made the decision to try to spearhead this movement,” she said. “My mom was encouraging me saying, ‘I think you should walk out, and if no one is starting the conversation, I believe you should it start it yourself.’”

Days before the event, the senior said Danbusky contacted the student organizers and participants would be considered cutting class for the period. It carries a considerably lighter punishment, a phone call or email to notify the student’s parents, according to Dowling.

“The students — those who decided to walk out and those who decided to stay in class — handled the matter with respect and dignity,” Banzer said in a statement. “Regardless of the decision they made, I am very proud of all of them for that.”

Mount Sinai School District's board of education during its March 8 meeting. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

Students in Mount Sinai will come back to school after this weekend greeted by new armed security guards.

The Mount Sinai board of education voted unanimously March 8 to hire four armed guards to patrol the school campus. Three of the armed guards will be stationed in and around the three main buildings on the campus, where the elementary, middle and high schools sit, while the fourth will be used to patrol the grounds and surrounding fences. The board said the guards will not be involved in normal disciplinary activities.

“My concern is based on response time. The 6th Precinct gave it a shot, and their best estimate was an eight-minute response time.”

— Gordon Brosdal

“My concern is based on response time,” Mount Sinai Superintendent Gordon Brosdal said. “The 6th Precinct gave it a shot, and their best estimate was an eight-minute response time.”

Brosdal also said he was also fearful that Mount Sinai is the type of nice area that would attract a shooting.
“We fit the profile of a school that gets hit,” he said.

As the national discussion over guns in schools lingers with no true federal legislation in sight, local school districts are spending budgetary funds to hire armed guards to protect children. Mount Sinai joins Miller Place School District and other districts across Long Island in hiring armed security personnel in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, shooting Feb. 14.

While Mount Sinai school board President Lynn Capobianco said that the district is currently looking for a risk assessment to be conducted, many residents at the meeting expressed disappointment that the district did not conduct one before hiring the armed guards.

“I believe we do need to take a look at what we are doing with school security — assessing our own risk after sort of seems like auditing our own taxes and then telling the IRS we don’t mean to pay,” resident Joe Latini said. “To me, it’ really is important that we have a third party risk assessment team come in here and tell us what we should do to secure the schools.”

School board Vice President Michael Riggio said the board wanted to get the armed guards in as soon as possible.

“I believe there is a threat, and armed security guards checks that box of deterrent.”

— Michael Riggio

“I believe there is a threat, and armed security guards checks that box of deterrent,” Riggio said.

The board is buying the services of Retail Security Services Inc. based out of Medford. The guards will be paid $40 per hour. The board said a future meeting will show where the guards will be placed in the budget.

Some parents in the meeting expressed that they wanted the guards to have military or prison guard backgrounds, but Brosdal said that when working as superintendent in William Floyd School District, that employs a number of security personnel, the most problems he had between security and the students were with those who used to work in Rikers penitentiary.

“Picture a guy whose done 20 years or more in Rikers with high school kids,” he said, pausing. “Not a good mix.”

Mount Sinai residents were split on whether they thought armed guards would truly protect the school’s children.

“I don’t think there would be enough people in the community to voice against it, because God forbid there is ever a school shooting, and the campus has no security in place.”

— Therese Blanton

“Regardless of what your stance is, I don’t think there would be enough people in the community to voice against it, because God forbid there is ever a school shooting, and the campus has no security in place,” Mount Sinai resident Chris Hart said. “These are open grounds — this is a large facility.”

Therese Blanton said she did not think the four armed guards would be enough to protect the campus.

“I still don’t understand how letting one armed guard in each building will protect this entire campus, including our perimeter,” Blanton said. “There’s no hard structure around and you have soft targets when they are out playing on the playground. I think a lot of people who are in my position are intimidated by guns in schools.”

Henry Dreyer said he too would prefer a full risk assessment done first, and that more parents would come to each and every meeting to help the district improve on a regular basis.

“I don’t like it, it’s unfortunate that they took this route,” he said of the board. “I would like if there were more mental health care in here. I have kids in the school — second grade and kindergarten — I attend the board of education meetings regularly, and there’s usually seven or eight of us here. Last week there were about 100 people here, and this time there’s more than 50. If they’d come down here every week, it would be better.”

Parents also speak of concerns of notification of recent school threat

Shoreham-Wading River High School is located at 250A Route 25A in Shoreham. File photo by Kevin Redding

At Shoreham-Wading River’s board of education meeting March 6, 11th grader Sarah Acerra took to the podium and spoke up in light of the recent Florida tragedy.

Shoreham-Wading River junior Sarah Acerra took to the podium during a recent board of education meeting to voice her concerns over school safety. Photo by Kevin Redding

“What is being done to make us students feel more safe?” Acerra asked board members.

The junior said she recalled a threat made by a student last year — Thursday, March 16, 2017 — via text message that “something might occur” at the high school. The student who sent the text was quickly identified and dealt with by the district and plans were put in place for locker and school bag searches the following school day. But Acerra, who said many of her peers stayed home upon hearing about the threat, did not feel safe when she arrived back at the high school the next day.

“I walked into school a little before 7 that morning — I remember it perfectly because nobody checked my bag and none of my friends’ bags were checked either,” she said. “So the rest of the day was very uneasy for all of us because we didn’t know what was going to happen. Even though the kid had been caught, there was no guarantee that there wasn’t anybody else involved with the threat.”

Another high school junior, Kathleen Loscalzo, spoke of her anxiety when it comes to who is able to enter the buildings. Loscalzo said she saw a former student, who moved to another state in seventh grade, in one of her classes this year. When asked if she recently moved back to Shoreham, the former student said, “No, I was visiting and they just let me in.”

“If someone my age who doesn’t go to school here just put on a backpack and walked in with everybody else, there would be no way [of knowing].”

— Kathleen Loscalzo

Loscalzo raised concerns over the student’s identification cards, which she said are not especially needed for anything except buying lunch in the cafeteria.

“I know many other schools have IDs they have to wear like a lanyard,” Loscalzo said. “If someone my age who doesn’t go to school here just put on a backpack and walked in with everybody else, there would be no way [of knowing].”

On the subject of social media threats, Jennifer Donnelly, a mother of a ninth-grader in the district, addressed a vague email sent out to parents by Poole on March 4 regarding a threat, which, according to the letter, was “investigated with the support of law enforcement who deemed the threat to not be criminal” and appropriate disciplinary actions were made.

“A lot of people, myself included, were really uncomfortable sending my kids to school after that,” Donnelly said asking for more clarification in these emergency emails. “There was nothing about who this threat was from, what the threat was, what the level of the threat was, what was done … And, with security being put in place, I feel like, ‘Well, what’s going to happen immediately tomorrow if someone comes through the door?’”

Superintendent Gerard Poole thanked both students and Donnelly for weighing in and assured them that the district has been reviewing and working toward strengthening its security and safety measures since before the Parkland, Florida shooting.

Shoreham-Wading River high school junior Kathleen Loscalzo said a former student was able to enter the building and visit a class of hers without being asked who she was upon entering the highs school. Photo by Kevin Redding

Frequent evacuation, lockdown and lockout drills currently take place throughout the year, and a combined $2 million investment over the past few has included security hardware additions and infrastructure improvements, like burglar alarm systems, enhanced video monitoring, elementary vestibules and School Active Violence Emergency (SAVE) hotlines installed in each building. Poole outlined to parents and students in attendance future projects to beef up security. These include:

  • Adding security guards in the high school; the district’s security supervisor said of arming them, “I think there’s a long laundry list of items that should be discussed in detail surrounding that — a legal piece, a training piece, a tactical piece. I know there’s an urgency to do something, but there’s a lot that needs to be done first.”
  • The construction of a high school vestibule to begin this spring with projected completion in summer 2020; the middle school vestibule will be completed this summer.
  • The installation of a Raptor Visitor Management System in all buildings this spring, a web-based monitoring software designed to track visitors and electronically check them against public databases.
  • The implementation of ballistic security film designed to prevent glass from shattering on impact and delay an intruder’s entry.
  • The consideration of metal detectors in the schools.

The district also recently completed a security audit and developed a “multi-pronged plan” for strong enhancement and has in place a recently-hired security consultant firm — Covert Operations — to enhance its plans, drills and overall preparedness in an emergency situation. The firm regularly reviews and improves security and safety measures.

“We are certainly in a strong position to ensure the safety of our students, staff and visitors,” Poole said.

Northport-East Northport school district. File photo

Northport-East Northport school district parents packed the cafeteria of William J. Brosnan School to standing-room only Thursday night to make sure their desire for increased security presence in the wake of the Florida shootings was heard loud and clear.

“The elephant in the room is armed security,” said Anthony Raganella, a 23-year veteran of New York Police Department from East Northport. “I 100 percent, no, I 1,000 percent applaud Miller Place Superintendent Dr. Marianne Cartisano and the Miller Place school board for hiring four armed retired police officers for their security.”

“Our children’s lives are worth more than anything, spend the money and get the security guards and give them the weapons.”

— Joseph Sabia

While Miller Place parents were divided and conflicted about their district’s decision to place retired NYPD officers armed with pistols outside their school buildings as of Feb. 26, Northport-East Northport parents gave the concept a standing round of applause. Many urged the board of education trustees to urgently take similar actions on March 1.

“Our children’s lives are worth more than anything, spend the money and get the security guards and give them the weapons,” said Joseph Sabia, a former board trustee. “Arm them and get them out in the field.”

Sabia pointed out that the district’s security consultant, Leonard Devlin, a retired NYPD detective, said that 26 of the district’s 31 security personnel are former law enforcement officers with backgrounds with the NYPD and FBI. As such, many of Northport’s school guards are already trained to use firearms.

“If you go back 20 years ago on the eve of Columbine … in some ways, we’ve come a long ways,” said Superintendent Robert Banzer. “We also know there is significant work to be done.”

The superintendent and Devlin gave a presentation on the upcoming measures the district is taking to improve its nine buildings’ security and student safety.

Devlin, who was hired by the district about a year ago, said the number of security cameras districtwide has increased from 351 to nearly 400 in the last year, along with the installation of a new burglary system. He admitted his security staff would still like to see more installed.

Michele Pettignano Coggins voices her feelings on armed security guards. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

A fast pass visitor management system has been put in place at both East Northport and Northport middle schools, according to Devlin, in which guests entering the building must show his or her driver’s’ license. The license is scanned and run through a background check to ensure they are not sexual predators, according to the consultant, and has been successful twice. Upon questions from parents, Devlin admitted that the district does not currently pay to check visitors against a criminal record database even though the system can do so. The fast pass system is expected to be put into place at the high school within the next week, and at all six elementary schools within the next three months.

There is approximately $10,000 in the administration’s draft 2018-19 budget to purchase new uniforms for the district’s security guards to make them more visible by incorporating a bright, reflective gold color.

“It’s good for the staff to know where there is help, have someone on premises who is visible,” Devlin said. “It’s a deterrent.”

The superintendent said the district is ready to begin construction of security vestibules at each of its buildings, a measure that was approved by voters in February 2017. The first building will be Bellerose Avenue Elementary School and plans for two other buildings are currently in Albany awaiting state approval. Banzer said the goal is to have all complete by 2019.

Inside the buildings, the superintendent said the district is 95 percent complete replacing all door locks so they can be locked from inside the classroom by a staff member with a key.

“It’s good for the staff to know where there is help, have someone on premises who is visible.”

— Leonard Devlin

“These are two of the major initiatives that are underway in our district right now,” Banzer said.

Parents came forward armed with suggestions on how they would like to see security improved for students, staff and the buildings. Kathy Affrunti, of Northport, asked if there was serious discussion of installing metal detectors while Northport resident Michele Gloeckner asked why the district’s proposed plans for the security vestibules didn’t include bulletproof glass.

“When we conceived of this idea there is thicker glass, we didn’t necessarily think of bulletproof glass,” he said. “It is it something we can go back and reconsider.”

Other residents spoke of replacing ground-level windows with ballistic-proof glass, improved training for teachers and staff members, implementation of better mental health programs and creation of a task force to address school safety concerns.

“There should be a master wish list of what a guy like you would like to see in a perfect place, what we should do, where we are and what we need to get,” said David Stein, vice president of the board, to a security consultant. “We can’t execute on everything in a year, but we should prioritize it.”

Northport board trustees have asked Delvin to provide a full list of ideal security items and personnel in the upcoming weeks and have agreed to revisit the issue during the upcoming March budget presentations.

Retired NYPD officers with pistols are stationed outside district schools following the Parkland, Florida school shooting

Miller Place School District parents and students gathered inside the high school library Feb. 28 to voice concerns and support for allowing armed guards outside schools in the district. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Coming back from mid-Winter recess, one armed guard stood outside each of the four schools in the Miller Place district, sparking controversy Monday.

The decision to station retired NYPD officers armed with pistols outside Laddie A. Decker Sound Beach School, Andrew Muller Primary School, North Country Road Middle School and Miller Place High School was made Sunday evening, and an email about the decision was sent out around 9 p.m. stating temporary “increased security measures” would be in place.

Miller Place parent Amber Buscemi is concerned about allowing armed guards to be stationed outside schools. Photo by Kevin Redding

Some residents praised the district for taking quick, drastic action in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, shooting that left 17 students and faculty members dead Feb. 14. Others raised concerns that the school’s decision was unnecessary and dangerous, sharing their feelings at a board of education meeting Feb. 28.

“Adding armed guards to our schools is not a solution to the problem of school shootings,” said Nina Thompson, the parent of a fifth-grader and a kindergarten student in the district who pleaded with the board not to make this a permanent implementation. “The school in Florida had one, but it didn’t prevent or minimize devastation. Kids should not have to grow up with guns in school. Period.”

But Lou Gallo, a retired teacher in Longwood, said in the immediate sense, armed security is crucial.

“We have to get rid of this notion that our lovely little schools are fuzzy, wuzzy wonderlands, because they’re not anymore — we have to raise our consciousness to the extent that our school is now a potential killing ground,” he told the board. “The criminal mind preys on defenselessness, weakness and vulnerability.”

Superintendent Marianne Cartisano explained to residents during the meeting that the board’s assignment of armed security was done so urgently to ensure that all precautionary measures were being taken.

“You send me your children in the morning and you expect me to send them home to you in the afternoon. There are 14 parents in Florida right now that don’t have that expectation.”

— Marianne Cartisano

“I just don’t want it to be me,” an emotional Cartisano told the residents packed inside the high school library. “I am responsible for 2,800 children and nearly 500 staff members every single day, and you, as parents, have reasonable expectations of me. You send me your children in the morning and you expect me to send them home to you in the afternoon. There are 14 parents in Florida right now that don’t have that expectation. And I can’t tell you how much that nauseates me, saddens me and frightens me.”

The Florida shooting occurred just days before the school district closed for its mid-winter recess, and Cartisano said she and other board of education members spent the break in constant communication. They ultimately met in person at central offices at 4 p.m. Sunday to gather information accumulated in the past week, evaluate the concerns coming from students and faculty members and weigh their options. After meticulously reviewing the pros and cons of each security suggestion, from installing metal detectors in each building to enforcing strict bans on parent drop-offs and pickups, the conversation ultimately led to armed guards.

“We know that we fit the perfect active shooter profile as an upper-middle-class, basically white-community that doesn’t think it’s going to happen here — that makes us a target,” Cartisano said. “Questions kept coming up — are we doing enough? There was a real community fear that we were feeling.”

Cartisano said, in total this week, the guards cost the district $5,750, and, moving forward with enhanced security, the new hires will not financially affect any athletic or extracurricular program, educational course or faculty and custodial staff members.

“The purpose of this was to reduce crisis response time and open up the conversation with law enforcement,” the supervisor said.

Roughly a dozen residents made their voices heard at the meeting.

Lou Gallo talks at the board of education meeting. Photo by Kevin Redding

“There is no evidence that an armed guard with a handgun will, or even can stop a shooter with an AR-15,” said Miller Place mother Amber Buscemi, referring to the style of assault rifle that has become the weapon of choice of mass shooters, including the suspect in Parkland’s massacre. “It is illogical. And, now, you have hired an armed officer to be suspicious of all students who attend our schools as they look for potential shooters. … It’s an unnecessary risk.”

Sound Beach resident and Miller Place graduate Patrick O’Hanlon said he doesn’t believe the armed guards would be effective against an active shooter.

“I don’t believe any of you should allow someone with a gun in here,” he said. “They’re not going to protect your children with a pistol in the lobby.”

Despite admitting he was not a gun advocate, Pete Conelli said he was in support of the armed guards. For him, he explained, the Parkland tragedy wasn’t just a story in the news. His wife’s closest friend lives in the Florida town, and her son is a freshman at the high school where the shooting occurred.

“He’s going to live with the mental scar for the rest of his life,” Conelli said, recounting the student sending his parents “I love you” texts from underneath a desk in a classroom while the shooter was in the hallway. “I’ve read a lot of school shooting statistics and one I read reported that 18 percent of shooters are shot by police … and I’ll give my kid the extra 18 percent any day of the year.”

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