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School Safety

BOE candidates Ryan Biedenkapp, Mia Farina, Jason Kronberg, René Tidwell, Tracy Zamek and Ryan Walker. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

Candidates for Port Jefferson School District’s board of education have thrown themselves into the world of public service at a tumultuous time for the district and education more broadly. To better inform voters about the positions of the six candidates vying for three trustee seats prior to heading to the polls May 15, each was asked to provide answers to the same  questions.

Candidate Mia Farina answered the questions during a phone interview while the other five chose to respond via email. Their answers to the questions, or answers in part, are provided below in alphabetical order by the candidate’s last name.

If the district loses revenue as a result of a LIPA settlement, how can the BOE scale down the budget without doing too much harm to existing programs?

There is the possibility of losing property tax revenue as a legal battle plays out between Port Jefferson Village, the school district and Long Island Power Authority, which has a plant in the village. The utility company contends Town of Brookhaven  overassessed and is seeking to reduce the assessment. The district receives about half of the revenue in its budget from taxes paid by LIPA based on the plant’s assessment.

The village and Brookhaven have publicly stated a settlement is on the horizon, the result of which will likely reduce the plant’s assessment, though few details have been shared. The district has publicized a plan for the budget should an official settlement be reached in time to impact the 2018-19 school year, with
proposed cuts to instrument rental availability, textbooks, athletic teams, clubs and overnight field trips, to name a few.

Budget highlights
  • $44,945,812 for total operating budget
  • 3.72 percent increase in 2018-19 compared to current year
  • Additional expenses would be covered with 2.27 percent tax levy increase and 2.23 percent state aid increase
  • All programs rolled over from current year in next year’s budget
  • Expense increase largely due to contractual raises and increasing health insurance costs
  • Second proposition on ballot to release capital reserves for roof repairs
  • Vote May 15 at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School

Ryan Biedenkapp: “There will need to be a scaling down of nonmandated costs by looking to trim where student participation fails to justify the cost. An increase in taxes combined with increased community participation in seeking alternative funding sources will also be required. Maintaining the academic integrity of Port Jefferson schools should be the guiding principle when deciding where reductions will occur.”

Mia Farina: “There’s actually grants out there — privately — [like] music grants that actually [pay for] musical instruments and pay for the maintenance of those instruments, so that alone would cover that lost revenue. I went to public school, and we did fundraisers. We could sponsor events. We possibly may lose revenue. If we could do anything to bring that back by having the community involved … ”

Jason Kronberg: “Depending on how severe the loss of revenue is, I’d like to hold forums with the community to come up with potential cuts to the budget.”

René Tidwell: “As a member of the BOE, I will work diligently to ensure the high standards the district has set for its instructional programs remain in place. I believe the district needs to form a Citizens Advisory Committee immediately, with the objective to assess the impact of the loss of LIPA revenue under various scenarios (such as 50 percent reduction of revenue, reduction on assessment or reduction on payments, etc.).”

Tracy Zamek: “The board can scale down the budget by looking at budget trends, participation rates, enrollment patterns and non-mandated costs. However, a combination of program adjustments and increased taxes will be necessary in order to absorb the significant loss of revenue. The community will once again be asked to provide input through a values survey and community forum response initiative. Understandably, not everyone is going to agree on every priority, but the most important thing to remember is our students come first.”

Ryan Walker: “Several suggestions that have been successful in other districts come to mind, such as encouraging increased philanthropic contributions, seeking out unused state and federal financial aid
opportunities and grant writing. The first thing to consider is what must the district have in order to maintain the high quality of education that makes families chose to move to Port Jefferson.”

Do you believe security officers and/or educators should be armed on school campuses?

Security in schools is never far from district’s and parent’s minds, though this has been particularly true in the wake of the latest mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in February, which left 17 dead. Neighboring districts have moved to employ armed security personnel, while some participated in the national discourse through walkouts.

Biedenkapp: “I don’t believe in arming teachers, ever. The idea of having an armed security person inside our schools is one that gives me pause. The retention of a single, possibly two, retired officers, who also was/were licensed air marshal that was carrying [a] concealed [weapon] at the front of the school at the vestibule or outside the school on the perimeter is something that I would be inclined to support.”

Farina: “Absolutely not. Their job is to educate, not to have the responsibility of a [carrying] firearms. Security officers, I believe, should be armed if they’re fully capable of being armed, meaning training is a huge priority.”

Kronberg: “Weapons-trained security can be an essential layer of protection for our schools. There is no definitive study on the effectiveness of this form of protection, but in my opinion it is something, with proper training, that can help prevent and deter violence. Arming teachers in schools is an irresponsible idea.”

Tidwell: “I believe the answer to this question is best answered by the community itself, and as a BOE member, I would recommend a town hall meeting to listen to the community’s ideas and concerns regarding security for our facilities.”

Potential cuts pending LIPA settlement
  • Reduction of rental of music instruments for students ($12,000) Reduction in equipment ($18,000)
  • Reduction of textbooks ($15,000)
  • Reduction of 6 budgeted sports teams based upon student interest ($37,000)
  • Reduction of 6 extra curricular clubs based upon student interest ($18,000) Elimination of overnight/long distance field trips (Busing/Chaperons) ($18,000)
  • Reduction in Board of Education organizational dues ($2,000)
  • Reduction in District Community Printing/Mailings (Newsletters/Calendars) ($10,000)

Walker: “I worked in two school districts as a nationally certified School Resource Officer for the New York State Police Department. At first, residents were hesitant to have a police officer in full uniform, which included a gun, in the schools. Resident hesitation swiftly dissipated as I worked to build a positive collaborative relationship with students, families, administration, teachers and staff.”

Zamek: “I absolutely do not support the idea of having teachers armed in schools. Guns do not belong inside our schools. However, I would welcome a village and community discussion about having professional armed security guards on the outside of schools, especially at arrival [and] dismissal and on the perimeter of fields during recess.”

Do you think BOE communication and transparency with taxpayers can be improved, and if so, how would you do it?

The district and board have been criticized by members of the community for a lack of transparency and for their communication methods on issues, like how the district informed parents of a social media threat made by a student in February long after it was received and via email instead of a robocall.

Biedenkapp: “We can absolutely improve communication with all stakeholders, as well as our transparency. With respect to the taxpayers the district Facebook page should be utilized to give a brief synopsis of each BOE meeting, along with the live video of the meeting and quick links to any pertinent web pages. The school’s web page is rather cumbersome, but design of a new website would be fiscally irresponsible at this time. Residents should have an ability to have their phone number added to the school robocall list.”

Farina: “I think there’s always room for improvement in any type of communication whatsoever. I haven’t really had an issue [with] school communication because I’m very active. … I would ask the community for ideas on how they would want to be notified. Who’s not getting information that wants information? How do you get your information?”

Kronberg: “Communication between the board and community, although strong in many ways, can always be improved. I’m excited for the ‘super team’ approach arrived at by the superintendent for this fall [which brings community members from different sectors together to come up with ideas to solve problems]. While the meetings are online and available, it may be a good idea to provide a question and answer email session with board members, where community members can write in and receive answers to specific questions.”

Tidwell: “I believe there are significant gaps in the BOE’s communication process with all the district’s stakeholders. I would establish a telephone communication protocol that includes all district taxpayers — not just the parents of children attending the district’s schools. I would ensure that taxpayers who currently do not utilize the internet or social media are informed of upcoming BOE events in a timely manner. I propose utilizing cellphone alert applications to remind residents of upcoming meetings, important announcements, etc., all of which could have ‘opt-in’ or ‘opt-out’ choices for all residents.”

Walker: “The current way of disseminating information is adequate for those with children attending schools in the district. However, everyone else must seek out information by checking the district’s web page on a daily basis to make sure they didn’t miss anything important. Printed newsletter mailings to residents are infrequent, costly and not always timely. All residents should have an opportunity to register their email addresses with the school to have the same information sent to them as parents of school children. Board members should make themselves more available to attend public functions, have face-to-face interactions with residents.”

Zamek: “There needs to be a greater emphasis on enrolling every community member on our connect-ed phone, text and email system. I have already started to improve communication between the school and village officials by creating a direct line of communication between the two offices. The school now informs the mayor’s office monthly concerning school board meeting dates and times and provides an agenda.”

A man at a March 14 PTA meeting in a high school in Rocky Point, New York, confronts a student in the aisle and holds a knife over his head. The pocket knife is closed and the man is trying to make a point about the need for security on behalf of the students in the school, including his two daughters. It is a heart-stopping moment, and the video was provided to TBR News Media by a senior student named Jo Herman.

We ran the video, along with the story of the meeting, on our website, Facebook page and YouTube. Such is the world we live in and the concern of parents around the nation that, to date, the Facebook video post has been seen by more than 11.3 million viewers. The total reach for all our Facebook posts last week was in excess of 17 million. That’s 17 MILLION plus, about the same as the entire population of the Netherlands. In addition, there have been many thousands of shares and comments on our Facebook page and our website. These numbers were supplied to us by Facebook Insights, the dashboard of Facebook and the most authentic source.

If ever we needed evidence of this world we are living in today, and the heartfelt concern of parents
throughout the United States, here it is. Could there be any parents who feel untouched by the concern for the safety of their children in the schools? Children have become the latest targets of an assassin’s gun.

These are not jihadists doing the killing. These are not ideologues carrying out the murders. These are our own citizens, in many cases children themselves, who are able to procure weapons and turn them on their teachers and classmates. Those 11 million viewers and all the rest of the parents, grandparents, siblings, relatives and friends of children who haven’t seen this video are no less terrified at the tragedies that have already been perpetrated and the violence that may yet come.

What is to be done? There are many reactions. Our children have realized their political clout and called for action with their walkouts and 17 moments of silence. Politicians in various states have proposed legislation, even passed legislation in one state, Florida, to try to gain control of this madness. The state is being sued for doing so, and the president offers words.

Consider this. A puppy dies on an airplane and within 48 hours, there is legislation passed to attempt to prevent such an unhappy event from happening again. How many more youngsters and adults must die before we can get our arms around this horror?

Social media can be great. It can be a miracle thread that connects us, informs us, unites us. It can also be a misery, as governments around the world are realizing. Facebook has been corrupted by its inability to prevent personal information from being stolen by nefarious thieves. But it has delivered a loud and clear message with the frenzy of response to a single incident in a small town on Long Island: The population is frightened, more frightened than by any attacks made against us by foreign nations or religious fanatics in the past. This threat is inside our defenses and until now seemingly unstoppable.

Yes, we need gun control. Yes, we need mental health services. Yes, we need greater vigilance. Yes, we need protection. We need all of that and more. Most of all, we need leadership, not contention, because this is a
moment that is shaking our republic in its heart.

By Desirée Keegan

One Rocky Point parent trying to make a point about school safety caused a stir.

A video has gone viral following a PTA meeting in the Rocky Point school district March 14. In the video, a man is seen pulling out what looks to be a closed pocket knife while face to face with Rocky Point senior Jade Pinkenberg. The man was seemingly making a point about the fact that security is needed in rapidly escalating situations.

“If something happened, if I decided to attack you, it would take the cops three to five minutes to come here, probably 10 if the traffic is bad,” he said to Pinkenburg as he pulls what appears to be a pocket knife from his pocket. “What are you going to do now?”

Someone in the back of the room can be heard yelling “stop it” as onlookers watched what was unfolding.

“This is inappropriate,” “he should be escorted out” parents at the meeting can be heard shouting. “You can’t pull a switchblade out on a kid in a school, that’s insane.”

The meeting was held in the evening the same day students walked out of school to join in the national walkout movement honoring the 17 lives lost in the Parkland, Florida, shooting Feb. 14 and to call attention to the need for stronger gun laws.

“During a discussion on the topic of armed security guards, a parent in attendance attempted to conduct a demonstration to reinforce his belief that all school districts should have such resources at their disposal,” Rocky Point Superintendent Michael Ring wrote in a statement on the district’s website following the incident. “While the district firmly acknowledges that the demonstration was ill-conceived and inappropriate for the venue, we believe that the act was not intended to compromise the safety of those in attendance. District personnel stopped the demonstration and members of our school security team removed the individual from the meeting. The district has contacted our dedicated Suffolk County Police Department School Resource Officer to report the incident.”

Students like, Jo Herman, who said she was suspended for walking out, expressed anger with how the situation was handled.

“I protested peacefully this morning and got suspended,” she said on Twitter. “A man threatened a kid with a knife at a PTA meeting and got gently escorted from the school. Show me the logic.”

Herman’s Twitter post of the video received nearly 21,000 likes and 10,000 retweets in less than 24 hours. Since then, the video has gone viral, being shared by thousands and watched by millions. Hundreds of people, from Rocky Point school district and beyond, have reacted to what they saw.

“Real quick to show their power against students, trying to show this is unacceptable, yet I don’t see a single administrator or security detail moving an inch when the knife was pulled on one of their students,” Rocky Point wrestler Ryan Callahan wrote.

Others were alarmed at how the trend of comments were made about the man’s actions being deplorable, but there was no mention of the attendee’s reactions.

“Every adult in that room should have jumped out of their seat and gotten between the student and that guy,” wrote Carmen Campos. “I would have, but what do I know — I’m a 61-year-old fourth-grade teacher.”

Some commenters asked others to try to see beyond the knife to the point the speaker was trying to make.

“The guy is presenting a scenario (albeit not in the brightest way),” wrote Cory Spence. “It’s clear to me that the kid didn’t feel threatened and the adult wasn’t being threatening. He’s holding the closed knife in a way to be clear to the kid.”

State Sen. John Flanagan. File photo

The New York State Legislature is working to make schools safer in the aftermath of the Feb. 14 shooting at a Florida high school. But the Republican-held Senate and Democrat-majority Assembly are not yet on the same page in figuring out how to accomplish the goal.

The Senate passed a package of bills March 6 aimed at improving school safety through various security-related measures. After a package of gun legislation bills — which included measures to create a stronger background check process, ban bump stocks or accessories that increase a semi-automatic weapon’s rate of fire, establish extreme risk protection orders, and more — brought forward by Senate Democrats failed in late February, the Assembly also passed a package of bills March 6 designed to strengthen gun laws. Several of the bills in the Assembly package were the same as versions voted down in the Senate. It remains to be seen if either house will pass their counterparts respective packages.

Bellone announces school safety initiative

Schools in Suffolk County will now be offered a permanent eye in the sky.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) announced the SHARE initiative March 9, a program that will allow districts the ability to connect existing camera systems directly to the Suffolk County Police Department. The system would enhance the efficiency of a police department response to an active shooter situation, according to a press release from Bellone’s office.

“We will do whatever it takes to protect our schools by utilizing every available tool and partnership at our disposal,” the county executive said in a statement. “The SHARE initiative will provide law enforcement the enhanced capabilities needed to respond to a security risk, and I look forward to working with our superintendents and stakeholders on how we can keep our schools safe.”

The county will hold a meeting of all school district superintendents March 15 to formally seek voluntary consent with the districts interested in the program.

“We have been preparing and training for the nightmare scenario that we hope never happens,” District Attorney Tim Sini (D) said in a statement. “In the police department, we enhanced our readiness for an active shooter scenario or a terrorist attack, but most importantly to take measures to prevent those incidents.”

“I have every hope that we can walk and chew gum at the same time because these are not mutually exclusive directions, and they are very complementary,” Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said in an interview. The Assemblyman said he hadn’t had a chance to fully study the package of bills passed in the Senate yet, but at first glance it included some initiatives he’d be comfortable supporting. “I would just appeal to my colleagues in the Senate to meet us halfway, and I would pledge to do the same for them. I think we all should keep our eye on what the objective is here, which is to save lives and ultimately there is no single measure that is going to be an omnibus solve.”

The passed Senate package includes a bill authorizing districts to receive state funding to hire a school resource officer, defined in the bill to include retired or active duty police officers, deputy sheriffs or state troopers. They would be permitted to carry firearms on school grounds if licensed to do so. Another bill increased the earnings limitations for retired police officers being employed by schools from $30,000 annually to $50,000. A bill was also included in the package that will provide state education aid to districts for acquiring safety technology and improving security.

“Schools must be safe havens, where students can learn and teachers can teach,” Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) said in a statement. “In New York, we must act swiftly and decisively to implement additional measures in schools throughout our state to give students, parents, and teachers the resources and peace of mind that they deserve.”

The Senate’s package also had components designed to improve school-based mental health services. One bill allocates districts $50,000 in state funding to put towards hiring a mental health services coordinator, while another requires the state Department of Education to investigate and report on the number of full and part-time school counselors, school social workers and school psychologists in each school; the ratio of students to the number of school counselors; the ratio of students to the number of school social workers; the ratio of students to the number of school psychologists in each school; and when such staff is working in more than one school.

As part of the package, another bill was passed defining school shootings as an act of terrorism, which now makes the New York State Intelligence Center in cooperation with the state Division of Homeland Security responsible for the collection, integration, receipt, processing, evaluation, analysis, fusing, dissemination, sharing, and maintenance of intelligence information to aid in detecting, preventing, investigating and responding to acts of terrorism, including school shootings. Now suspects who discharge a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school can be charged with committing an act of terrorism.

The bills in the Senate’s package passed with overwhelming, bipartisan support in most cases. They will now head to the Assembly before arriving, if passed, at Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) desk for signing into law.

The package that passed the Assembly, if eventually passed by the Senate and signed by Cuomo, would temporarily prohibit individuals from purchasing or possessing guns if a family member or law enforcement officer petitions a court and the court finds individuals are likely to engage in conduct that would harm themselves or others.

It also would establish a 10-day waiting period before a gun may be delivered to a purchaser who has not cleared a background check. Under current federal law, gun dealers must conduct a background check through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System before selling a firearm. The NICS system responds with one of three messages — “proceed,” “denied” or “delayed.” The dealer must deny the sale if the NICS background check determines the buyer is a prohibited purchaser and responds with a “denied” message. However, if the response is “delayed,” the dealer may nonetheless complete the sale after three business days.

Also included in the package is a bill preventing convicted domestic abusers from purchasing or possessing a firearm.

Spokespersons for Flanagan and state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) did not immediately respond to a request for comment asking if they intend to support the package of legislation passed by the Assembly.

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.

Discussion also comes in wake of Parkland, Florida shootin

The Port Jefferson School District community attends a meeting in the high school auditorium on school safety Feb. 26. Photo by Alex Petroski

School districts and communities have been forced to reflect in the days since a shooter at a high school in Parkland, Florida killed 17 people.

Port Jefferson School District’s self-examination included a look at the reaction to a social media threat by a now former student the day after the Feb. 14 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School tragedy. Improving school safety going forward, and a give-and-take between Superintendent Paul Casciano and concerned parents, highlighted a two-hour community meeting inside a packed Port Jefferson High School auditorium Feb. 26.

Casciano shared some details about the district’s handling of the student and the threat, which played out during the final days before mid-winter recess, frequently reminding attendees that he was not at liberty to discuss many of the factors that played into the timeline.

“He doesn’t have access to weapons.”

— James Strack

He said district administration became aware of a social media post at the end of the school day Feb. 15 when two students came forward with concerns.

“Although there was no indication that there was an imminent threat to the safety of our students and staff, we take any threat of violence very seriously, and we immediately contacted the police,” the superintendent said.

He said Suffolk County Police Department’s 6th Precinct thoroughly investigated the matter into the night of Feb. 15 and most of the day Feb. 16. He said information, much of which was false, has been spread by parents and members of the community, stemming from a parent.

“Since the investigation was still in progress, I was unable to get any information at that time,” Casciano said. “I was assured that there would be a police presence at the school the next day. We were allowing the 6th Precinct to do their work. We weren’t looking to start spreading the news.”

The superintendent sent out an email to district residents just before midnight Feb. 15 to let parents know a threat had been made, a law enforcement investigation was underway and that extra precautions would be taken to ensure students and staff felt safe during the Feb. 16 school day. He said he elected not to notify parents via a prerecorded phone message because of the late hour.

“Wake us up,” several parents said in response to Casciano’s rationale behind email notification as opposed to a phone call as to not disturb families.

“Although there was no indication that there was an imminent threat to the safety of our students and staff, we take any threat of violence very seriously, and we immediately contacted the police.”

— Paul Casciano

“I think vague is better than zero,” another parent responded to Casciano’s contention that the presence of an ongoing investigation tied his hands.

Many parents said during the meeting they didn’t see the message until after they had sent their children to school, and as erroneous rumors began spreading on social media of a lockdown or evacuation, parents began pulling students out of school. Casciano sent out a second email around 1 p.m. Feb. 16 with the stated mission in part to dispel a “firestorm” of rumors on social media pages frequented by district parents. The second communication reiterated that an investigation was ongoing, which prevented the superintendent from being able to fully brief parents on the situation and that the district buildings were safe.

“Your imagination tends to run a little wild, and I think that’s part of the reason why people were looking for an answer,” one parent said of the environment in the hours after rumors began to spread. “I think it would’ve been nice to get a little articulation from you before this.”

Casciano said at the time, he was advised by the SCPD that there was no credible threat of violence, a point that was backed up by 6th Precinct Police Captain James Strack, who attended the meeting and fielded a handful of parent questions.

“He doesn’t have access to weapons,” Strack stated when asked about the status of the investigation. He said the student and his family were extremely cooperative, and none of the evidence presented to the district attorney’s office met a criminal threshold.

Casciano said he was assured the student was supervised and “receiving proper care.” The student, who is not a Port Jefferson resident, attended by paying tuition, and was not arrested following the incident. The child will not be returning, though Casciano declined to specify if the decision was entirely the district’s.

“I’d like to think it was mutual,” he said.

In addressing increased safety options for the future, the superintendent was clear about a plan being discussed across the country, including at the highest levels of the United States government.

“Teachers with guns make me nervous.”

— Paul Casciano

“Teachers with guns make me nervous,” Casciano said. The sentiment was met with applause from the attendees.

The superintendent mentioned suggestions he’d received from parents, which included arming teachers. Other proposals included installation of bullet-proof windows, enhancing the number of security personnel, conducting backpack checks or banning them altogether, adding metal detectors, arming security guards and monitoring students’ social media accounts.

Casciano also detailed some of the safety practices the district employs, including shooter drills and training for staff and students and identification checks for visitors. He also stressed the district’s commitment to mental health awareness.

One parent, Karen Sullivan, pointed to Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit established by relatives of victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, which offers support, strategies and suggestions to familiarize onself with signs that could indicate a student might be troubled.

“I recently signed up to be a promise leader,” she said. “I’ve been in contact with them over the last three or four days, and they have a slew of programs that would be free to our district. They are ready, willing and able to come here to help, and I’m offering my help and my support.”

Casciano said the district will review submitted suggestions as soon as possible while also examining the feasibility and practicality of any option before eventually submitting any further safety recommendations to the board of education.

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We’ve been here before. A shooter kills and maims unarmed, innocent American citizens, and according to the people elected to represent us, it’s never quite the right time to discuss gun control.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) told us last week, now “is not the time to jump to some conclusion,” adding the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, was not about guns, but about “pure evil.”

We’re glad students from the high school have rebuked Ryan and his ilk who, as a church sign in Australia put it over the weekend, “love guns more than their kids.” If students who experienced the horror in Florida Feb. 14 firsthand are ready to talk about change, we’re with them.

However, we’ll go along with the speaker’s flawed premise and offer some thoughts about the latest mass shooting in the United States without politicizing the discussion:

• First, let’s honor the heroes who put themselves in harm’s way, some, making the ultimate sacrifice for their colleagues and classmates. While many have heard of teacher Scott Beigel, 35, who grew up in Dix Hills and died shielding students from gunfire, have you heard of Anthony Borges? Anthony is a 15-year-old student fighting for his life who saved 20 lives as he attempted to close and lock a classroom door. He was shot five times — in both legs, his upper left thigh and his back. His thigh bone was shattered.

• Are all threats taken seriously? A neighbor reported the shooter’s social media account to the FBI in January, making note of his “gun ownership, desire to kill people, erratic behavior and disturbing social media posts, as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting,” a statement from the FBI read. But nothing was done. Every single hostile message, no matter how small, needs to be noted and handled accordingly. Police need to investigate every threat or mention of harm or disturbance, while schools and their therapists should monitor every student suspect from then on out.

• We are extremely impressed by the grace and maturity students from the high school have displayed in their public thoughts on the tragedy. Lasting change being brought about by young voices should be what America is all about. While many had lost hope, grieving students cried out. Yes, it was a terrible tragedy that should never have happened, as is said each and every time a mass shooting occurs, but again nothing is being done. This is why there are plans for a March For Our Lives stomp on March 24 in Washington, D.C., where the people will bring the power. “We are up here standing together, because if all our government and president can do is send thoughts and prayers, then it’s time for the victims to be the change that we need to see,” said 18-year-old Emma González. We admire the Parkland high school senior, and the many other students who took to podiums to voice their opinions, concerns and anger. They have a right to be mad, and even more, a right to be heard. David Hogg, a 17-year-old student who survived the shooting, had a similar, strong message to legislators: “Politicians and more importantly the American public must take action if we’re going to prevent the next shooting. To elected officials I say this, ‘Don’t lie to us. Don’t make any more false promises, because when you do, children die.’” He called the time a turning point in American history “where students stand up and speak out — when the politicians won’t.” We hope to see that happen. In the face of division, standing up is not for any political agenda but for the lives of the innocent, like young school children.

As Emma González said, and, yes, now we’ll talk about guns: “They say that tougher gun laws do not decrease gun violence. We call B.S.” So do we, Emma.

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