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Youth coalition pushes for ‘wave of orange,’ support for politicians in favor of more regulation this November

More than 600 people gathered together loudly chanting, “Enough is enough,” and calling for measures to help bring an end to gun violence in schools at a Huntington Station park this past weekend.

Members of Students against Gun Violence LI, a student-led coalition calling for stricter gun control measures, were joined by parents, Huntington area residents and community members in a rally July 29 at Breezy Park. This event aimed to build on the momentum gathered in the March 24 marches in response to the February Parkland, Florida, school shooting, encouraging young adults to voice their opinions on gun control issues at the polls this November.

“America just loves its guns more than its people and if that’s not f****d up, I don’t know what is,” said Lucy
Peters tearfully, as the niece of Dix Hills native Scott Beigel, who was killed in the Parkland shooting. “We need to elect ‘orange’ politicians who see gun control for what it is — a human issue and not a political issue.”

We need to elect ‘orange’ politicians who see gun control for what it is — a human issue and not a political issue.”

– Lucy Peters

Orange has been adopted as the color worn and displayed by those protesting stalled gun control measures.

Peters stood alongside relatives of other Parkland shooting victims: Commack resident Paul Guttenberg whose niece, Jaime, a student, was killed, and Linda Beigel Schulman, mother of Scott Beigel, in calling for stricter gun control measures.

“On Feb. 14, 2018, a 19-year-old was not mature or trustworthy enough to handle a beer but was mature and trustworthy enough to handle a weapon of war, an AR-15 assault rifle,” Beigel Schulman said, in questioning gun control laws. “In what world does that make sense?”

The mother of the 35-year-old Parkland shooting victim called out Long Island politicians who have offered their “thoughts and prayers” to victims of mass shootings but have not voted in support of gun control legislation, specifically naming U.S. Reps. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and Peter King (R-Seaford). Beige Schulman said in the wake of Scott’s death, she had chosen to make gun control reform her life’s mission and encourages others to take action.

People ask me, ‘What can we do to support you?’ My answer is so simple: Make sure you get out and vote.”

– Linda Beigel Schulman

“People ask me, ‘What can we do to support you?’” she said. “My answer is so simple: Make sure you get out and vote. Then make sure to tell at least two more people to get out and vote.”

U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), who co-sponsored the Huntington rally, stressed the importance of high school and college students continuing to voice their opinions on national issues by registering to vote and holding politicians accountable for their viewpoints in the upcoming
midterm elections.

“We need young people to continue to keep a youth movement going in this country to focus on this issue of gun violence,” Suozzi said. “This is a unique time in history. The adults have failed and we need young people to keep this going.”

Huntington resident Owen Toomey, who has been actively involved in March for Our Lives Long Island, stressed that the movement has defined five major legislative goals that it is fighting for. First on that list is universal background checks for gun purchasers.

I accept that my innocence has been eroded by the fear of gun violence, but I refuse to accept that same fate for upcoming generations.”

– Gia Yetikyel

Other goals of the movement include upgrading and digitalizing the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives registry; a ban on the sale of high-capacity gun magazines and semi-automatic assault rifles, and getting Congress to approve funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research and study gun violence.

“When people ask what you are rallying for, tell them our goals,” Toomey said. “Remind them we aren’t banning guns, remind them we aren’t taking their guns, remind them we aren’t taking away their sport or self-defense — we are just making it harder for someone to kill 15 people in the span of six minutes.”

Gia Yetikyel, of New Hyde Park, recalled how terrified she was 17 years old and her high school experienced an incident that required a lockdown. While crouching in the corner of the classroom, she reported sending out text messages to her mother to ask about a younger brother’s safety, sending messages to beloved family and friends all while making a list of goals she had yet to accomplish.

I’ll be telling them the young on Long Island have never rested or stopped fighting for what is right.”

– Avalon Fenster

“I accept that my innocence has been eroded by the fear of gun violence, but I refuse to accept that same fate for upcoming generations,” she said.

Yetikyel said she still suffers effects from that day and, as such, fights for stricter gun control measures.

“We send out condolences to the families of the dead, but I’m still sending them to the living for having to fight this battle that shouldn’t even exist,” she said.

March for Our Lives Long Island co-founder Avalon Fenster, of Dix Hills, announced that she will be taking her pledge to fight for gun control legislation to the national level. She’s been invited to join the “Road to Change” national March for Our Lives Tour as a representative for Long Island alongside Parkland survivors Emma González and David Hogg. The tour stopped in Greensboro, North Carolina, from July 31 to Aug. 2 to rally for gun control while showing active opposition to the National Rifle Association.

“I’ll be telling them the young on Long Island have never rested or stopped fighting for what is right,” Fenster promised those gathered. “We will resist. We will register, and we will bring justice.”

By Kyle Barr

Shoreham-Wading River school district is asking students and staff to become the eyes and ears of the school with the introduction of the anonymous Report It app as part of the district’s increasing focus on school security.

Report It app draft of anonymous report questions.

“Last fall we started to look at different ways that students could report any safety or security issues they may have where they weren’t comfortable reporting in a regular venue,” Superintendent Gerard Poole said. “This was an anonymous way to let us know if there was something they know or to give us some advance notice of something that may be emerging.”

The Report It app allows students, teachers, staff or community members who access the website or download the app to anonymously report on any activity they think is suspicious to the school, whether its security or drugs related or even involving social media and cyberbullying.

Alan Meinster, the assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and assessment said at an April 18 board of education meeting each of the four district principals and administration will receive the tips and are responsible for checking up on any reports. The information in the report will then be monitored by the district main office.

“There are protocols they have to do involving investigating any information that is receive — all the principals will always follow the standard protocol, and part of that protocol is consulting with district administration,” Meinster said at the meeting.

The reports are monitored during regular school hours.

The app has been active in the district for approximately a month, but Poole said the district has yet to see any reports that have required action. Though Poole admitted that since reporting is anonymous there is potential for false reports, he believes students and staff understand the purpose and gravity of what this app means for the school.

“This was an anonymous way to let us know if there was something they know is emerging to give us some advance notice.”

— Gerard Poole

“We had a high school assembly where we were telling students how to use the app and what it was for, and I think the students took it very seriously as an option for them,” Poole said. “We haven’t had any false reports yet, and while there is potential for false reports it wasn’t enough of a concern for us not to implement it.”

Poole said that the school is not liable if they do not take action on any specific report.

The app is part of the district’s See It, Say It, Report It campaign to get students and staff active in being mindful of school safety. The app joins other security features that the district has implemented this year such as a visitor management system in all district buildings that scans licenses and prints out a tag with a person’s destination and photo. The district has also hired two more security guards for large gatherings as well arrival and dismissal during the school day.

The district is planning to implement more security features over the summer. Poole said the goal is for students to come back next year to new security vestibules and a student ID swipe-in system at the high school and Albert G. Prodell Middle School. The security features will be built with funds from the ongoing bond project.

“If you are going to encourage a student to come forward, which is not an easy thing to do, you have to provide mechanisms that are conducive to the culture.”

— Anthony Lavalle

Anthony Lavalle, executive director of Sayville-based Report It Inc., said that the app was designed for use in today’s technological age.

“If you are going to encourage a student to come forward, which is not an easy thing to do, you have to provide mechanisms that are conducive to the culture,” Lavalle said. “Even today if you think about it, a school shooting in Texas, school shooting in Florida, the concept is that students potentially know about these types of things, but they do not communicate them because of fear of some sort of retribution or retaliation.”

After the Feb. 14 Parkland, Florida, shooting, Lavalle said he’s seen a lot more interest from local schools in Report It as a means of enhancing security. A number of school districts on Long Island, including Half Hollow Hills, Plainedge, Lynbrook, Port Washington and Malverne have also signed on to using the app.

The application is web-based, but there is also an option for users to download it to their phone. Each school building’s webpage has a link that sends it to that specific building’s Report It page.

If logging into the app from the website, users will have to input five digits for reporting for Shoreham-Wading River schools. The code starts with “SWR,” with the last two letters being the school the user is sending it to, which are “HS” for the high school, “MS” for Albert G. Prodell Middle School, “MA” for Miller Avenue Elementary and “WR” for Wading River Elementary School.

School officials urge that if the report is an emergency, to immediately call 911 or contact emergency services.

Shoreham-Wading River High School students gathered in front of the road leading to the school to protest gun violence and gun-control legislation during #NationalHighSchoolWalkout day April 20. Photo by Kyle Barr

Though it has been close to 20 years since the Columbine High School shooting, for Shoreham-Wading River High School students who participated in a school walkout on the anniversary April 20, the threat of gun violence is still all too real.

Shoreham-Wading River High School junior Kelly Beagen, on right, voices her opinions during the walkout. Photo by Kyle Barr

“We don’t want to be numbers of slain students in a newspaper,” junior Reese Manghan said to the group of students standing in front of the road leading up to the school. The close to 20 students who participated organized on social media and braved the cold winds of early spring to protest gun violence and current gun-control laws.

“If we’re apathetic to this issue, then were simply ignoring and consenting to the thousands of deaths that have been caused by gun violence in America,” junior Mahdi Rashidzada said.

Rallys and walkouts were hosted all across the country for the 19-year anniversary of the Columbine massacre, a school shooting where 15 students were killed and 24 were seriously injured. Though Columbine shocked the nation and brought more attention to violence in schools, the Washington Post reported that more than 208,000 students have experienced gun violence since Columbine.

“I was horrified of coming out because all I get to see on the media is gay people getting shot, gay people getting killed. If people didn’t fight for change, I probably would still be straight.”

— Jordan Carroll

“Even though Shoreham-Wading River is such a small school, we have all been personally connected to these shootings, wherever it is,” junior Kayla Napolitano said. “I have three younger siblings, and I know a lot of us don’t show appreciation to our siblings, but when that time comes I don’t want to see them be shot or hurt in any way.”

“The world is such a violent place,” junior Jordan Carroll said, opening up about his feelings following the Orlando gay nightclub shooting where 49 people were killed and 53 others wounded. “I was horrified of coming out because all I see in the media is gay people getting shot, gay people getting killed. If people didn’t fight for change, I probably would still be [identifying as] straight. I don’t want violence whatsoever.”

Students argued that there should be restrictions on gun sales in America. Some students pointed to places like Australia, which banned the sale of assault rifles and had a massive gun buyback program in 1996.

“I think that it’s important to think about other parts of the world — and I feel like for some people, there’s this culture in our country that we have to be different from other parts of the world, like simply being different makes us better than them,” junior Kelly Beagen said. “But there is evidence that different countries that have different gun laws don’t having mass shootings, at least not at the rate that we have them.”

Shoreham-Wading River students protested on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting. Photo by Kyle Barr

Students stood behind a barricade that was guarded by both school security and Suffolk County police.

“With what we want it shouldn’t be harder for a responsible gun owner to get a gun,” Manghan said. “What’s going to be harder, hopefully impossible, is for somebody who’s mentally ill or mentally incapable from getting a gun and shooting people.”

Students said that the walkout was much more organized than the one hosted March 14, and that that the school administration supported the students to a much better degree.

“I felt more confident than last time — last time it was just a bunch of people walking in solidarity, but that became a conflict with the school,” Rashidzada said. “Today, definitely, the school is in support of us as long as we follow the general rules — we feel pretty good about that.”

“At the very least they respect what we’re doing,” Manghan said.

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Students applaud as their peers deliver speeches during the Port Jeff Station March for our Lives March 24. Photo by Alex Petroski

The 1980s rock band White Lion said it best when they sang: “When the children cry let them know we tried, ’cause when the children sing then the new world begins.”

Children across the country ensured their cries were heard March 24 when millions of them took to the streets to call for implementation of stricter gun control laws as part of hundreds of March for Our Lives rallies. Now we have a challenge for them and the parents and grandparents who joined them — keep the momentum.

The rallies were inspired by the battle cries of students who survived the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. For centuries, protesting has been a popular way to get politicians to pay attention, but those rallying calls need to be followed by action in order to get things done. We surmise many if not most of the student marchers understand this is just beginning, like Avalon Fenster, one of the organizers of the March 24 rally in Huntington.

“In the long term, we want to get youth more civically involved, collaborating with elected officials to create legislation that makes our lives a priority,” Fenster said.

It’s something Port Jefferson High School students Ben Zaltsman, Matt Pifko and Gavin Barrett also get. These students helped establish a station in their high school where their peers can get assistance in writing letters to their representatives. Letter writing, emailing and calling the offices of elected officials is a vital process to let legislators know what their constituents want and need.

However, writing to a congressman is not the end of the line either if true change is the students’ goal. All the letters and phone calls in the world mean nothing if a person isn’t registered to vote. The March for Our Lives website, www.marchforourlives.com, has set up a form to make it easier for voters to register. It’s a rite of passage and a civic responsibility when a teen turns 18.  High school students who are heading off to college in the fall need to also familiarize themselves and their peers with the process of obtaining and
submitting an absentee ballot. If you are registered to vote in Setauket but go to school at SUNY Cortland, unless you’re driving home on the morning of Nov. 6, an absentee ballot is your only option.

Simply showing up to fill out a ballot is not enough either. People of all ages need to ask themselves what matters most to them, and then see how their representatives in the U. S. Senate, House of Representatives and state positions vote on issues.

There’s one more step 18-year-old marchers need to keep on the table as well. If you feel you and your community are not being represented effectively by those in power, consider running for office, or at least help those who represent your interests get elected. That’s what 24-year-old Josh Lafazan did last November, and he became Nassau County’s youngest legislator. For a few political offices — including New York State senator and assemblyperson — the minimum age requirement is 18 years old. To serve in the federal government, you must be at least 25 years old.

Leslie Gibson, a Republican candidate for the Maine House of Representatives, is a living embodiment of what is possible. He recently dropped out of his race after receiving criticism for remarks he made on Twitter about Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students, including calling Emma Gonzalez, who has been in the forefront of the movement, a “skinhead lesbian.” He had been running unopposed, but after he made the comment, challengers sprung up from both parties, including a 28-year-old Democrat who had never considered seeking political office before.

We’ve heard the children’s cries. Now the real work begins.

 

By Karen Forman

Hundreds of students, parents, grandparents and politicians rallied outside Huntington Town Hall this Saturday to honor the lives of the Parkland school shooting victims and call for the implementation of stricter gun control measures.

The March for Our Lives Long Island held March 24, founded by 16-year-old Huntington students Avalon Fenster and Sara Frawley, was one of the more than 800 rallies that sprung up across the country as part of the national movement started by survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.

“In the short term, we want to honor the lives lost in Parkland and all the school shootings since Columbine,” Fenster said. “In the long term, we want to get youth more civically involved, collaborating with elected officials to create legislation that makes our lives a priority.”

“We want to live in a country where children can go to school and not fear that they won’t come home.”
— Julia Fenster

The event was kicked off with a performance by Dan Krochmal, an Australian-born singer now residing in New York City, who wrote a song in support of the movement titled “Pride Before the Fall.” Featured speakers included student organizers, local politicians and family members of the Parkland shooting victims.

“We want to live in a country where children can go to school and not fear that they won’t come home,” said Julia Fenster, Avalon’s mom, and the founding chairperson of March for Our Lives Long Island. “Where parents saying goodbye to their children in the morning don’t fear it is the final goodbye. Where teachers only need to worry about teaching and not about being a human shield.”

Melissa Beigel, the sister of Dix Hills native Scott Beigel, spoke at the rally. Beigel was a geography teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who was shot and killed while attempting to lock his classroom door to protect students.

Avalon Fenster publicly called for politicians to pass stricter gun control legislation in the wake of the shootings. The student organizer acknowledged that U.S. citizens are entitled the right to bear arms but highlighted that there is a significant difference between colonial-era rifles and assault rifles.

“People forget that the 2nd Amendment was created in colonial times when they used a rifle that only shot about two bullets in three minutes,” she said. “Now we have automatic weapons that can shoot 140 rounds in three minutes. We are not trying to abridge people’s rights, but we do think that human life should take priority over material ownership and convenience of that ownership.”

“All you students, your voices count. Fight for change.”
— Paul Guttenberg

Rally organizers took turns reading the names of all the people who have been killed in a mass shooting since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. This somber act caused a quiet hush to sweep over those gathered.

Former U.S. Rep Steve Israel (D-Huntington), who left office in January 2017, spoke about the voting behavior of elected officials he witnessed while in office.

“I spent 16 years watching people in Congress voting no for laws that would have kept us safe,” Israel said. “Each time I kept thinking that this time would be different, but they kept voting no. They didn’t want to let down their [National Rifle Association] voters.”

Among the signs carried by rally participants included “NRA profits are bathed in the blood of our children.” Israel has written a 320-page book titled “Big Guns,” a comical novel about the firearms industry and Washington politics, which is currently scheduled to be published in April.

“If adult politicians can’t keep you safe, you vote against them,” he said, to which the crowd responded with “vote them out.” “Change is coming and you are our change. We are going to make the world safe again.”

Commack resident Paul Guttenberg, uncle of slain 14-year-old Parkland student Jaime Guttenberg, took to the stage to publicly address a crowd for the first time.

“All the students who died in these mass shootings had their voices robbed from them. Now we have to be their voices.”
— Max Robins

“She will never get to go to college, get married or have children of her own because of assault rifles,” he said. “Mass shooting can happen in any town in this country. We have to stop gun violence in this country and ban assault rifles.”

Guttenberg encouraged those students at the rally to use the rally’s momentum to keep pushing for stricter gun legislation.

“All you students, your voices count,” he said. “Fight for change.”

Isabelle Kaufman, a 16-year-old student at Half Hollow Hills East, echoed his sentiments as she spoke to those gathered about the need to hold the federal government and elected officials accountable.

“All of this happened because of a 19-year-old who couldn’t be trusted to purchase alcohol, but he was allowed to purchase an assault rifle,” she said. “Students should go to school in fear of taking a test, not in fear of their lives.”

The crowd, moved by the speeches, took up the chant of “No more silence. No more violence.”

Max Robins, a member of the March for Our Lives Long Island group, concluded the two-hour rally with a motivating speech and call to action.

“All the students who died in these mass shootings had their voices robbed from them,” Robins said. “Now we have to be their voices. And we are the voice that will not be silenced. We will not be forgotten.”

Taking the lead of demonstrations started by people barely old enough to drive during the days of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement, North Shore students marched Saturday. Their messages were clear in their rhetoric delivered over a sound system from the bed of a pickup truck and on homemade signs: lives lost to gun violence are no longer acceptable, especially in schools, and politicians who do not agree are going to have organized and audible opposition.

A local incarnation of the March for Our Lives, a movement started by survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that left 17 people dead in Parkland, Florida, Feb. 14, took place at the intersection of Routes 347 and 112 in Port Jefferson Station March 24. While thousands stomped through Washington, D.C., and countless other areas across the globe, several hundred gathered locally, thanks to the organizing efforts of students from Miller Place, Port Jefferson, Ward Melville and other area high schools, to call on politicians to take action to prevent gun violence in schools and communities. Activist organizations The North Country Peace Group, Long Island Rising, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Building Bridges in Brookhaven assisted the high schoolers in setting up the demonstration.

Calls for legislative action in speeches and on signs ranged from all-encompassing bans of “assault style” weapons seen abroad, like in Australia; to the more incremental policy changes being discussed in state houses and on the federal level, such as raising the minimum age to purchase firearms from 18 to 21; to bans on modifiers that make semi-automatic weapons function like automatic weapons; stronger background checks; and longer waiting periods for purchases.

“We are infused with a passion for change — change that we hope will drain the stagnant pool of corruption in our nation,” Miller Place High School student Jake Angelo said to the crowd. “We are the hope for our country’s future — the generation of awareness, the generation of calling ‘B.S.’ and the generation of change.”

Nearly all of the student speakers directed their remarks at U.S. 1st Congressional District Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and the National Rifle Association, the powerful lobbying arm whose political contributions are often criticized as the deterrent to advancing gun legislation by those who lean to the political left. Zeldin received nearly $10,000 in campaign contributions from the NRA during his reelection campaign in 2016, according to campaign finance watchdog OpenSecrets.org.

“Change does not happen when the leaders deem it so,” Ward Melville High School student Scott Egnor said. “Change happens when every day folks say that enough is enough. Change happens when every day folks draw the line. Change happens when we vote Lee Zeldin out. We will take this movement, by Americans, for Americans, and we will bring it to the doors of the capital. We will not stop until Congress is more afraid of our voice than the NRA checkbooks.”

A spokeswoman for Zeldin Katie Vincentz said in an email the Congressman has and will continue to meet with those on both sides of the gun control debate, when asked if he planned to meet with any of the NY-1 students behind the Port Jeff Station march. She said Zeldin supports banning bump stocks, fixing the National Criminal Instant Background Check System and “ensuring lunatics manifesting violent criminal intentions to murder with firearms have access to none,” among other changes widely regarded as incremental gun control steps. She did not say whether or not he would support a ban on assault-style weapons when asked.

“The more people of all ages participating the better,” Vincentz said when asked how Zeldin viewed the activism of students in his district and beyond.

A speaker who identified herself as Ariana, a sophomore at Longwood High School, also invoked Zeldin during her remarks.

“Why should 15 year olds have to discuss the possibility of dying at the hands of a mass shooter?” she said. “Why should we be discussing dying in school, a place where we’re supposed to be safe and protected? And what can we expect from politicians like Lee Zeldin? Apparently only prayers and condolences. Congress is not taking the necessary steps to keep students like me and my friends safe — or the 5 year olds in kindergarten, or the 11 year olds in middle school. That’s why we are here. We cannot wait for the adults in Congress to continue to let the NRA call the shots when it comes to our safety. These politicians are not listening to us because we are supposedly too young to know what’s good for us, but apparently their silence is what’s best. Or perhaps the issue here is special interests and the money they receive is more important to them than our lives.”

Many of the parents of student speakers and participants in attendance expressed how proud of their children they were.

“It’s honestly the most proud that I’ve ever been of them,” said Kathy Podair, whose daughter Emma and frienf Alyssa Anderson, Smithtown High School West students, were among the marchers. “I’ve raised them to be strong women and to speak out against things that are wrong and that need to change. To see them take that initiative and stand up, I feel like I did a good job. I’m very proud of them today.”

She called sending a student off to high school in today’s world “terrifying.”

“They had a lockdown drill last week,” she said. “We got an email from the superintendent in the morning letting us know that there will be an unannounced lockdown drill today, and they came home from school and told me they were in the choir room when it happened, in a room that doesn’t have a lock on the [glass] door, and they said ‘we were sitting ducks if this was real.’ There were 150 kids in this room and they said ‘there’s nowhere safe for us to hide.’”

Port Jefferson High School students Ben Zaltsman and Matt Pifko, who helped organize an indoor assembly that took place March 14 on the day a national walkout was scheduled, along with classmate Gavin Barret, also spoke during the event. The trio said they were inspired by the solidarity they felt from seeing so many of their peers in attendance. The students helped establish a station in the high school that will remain open at which their peers can get assistance in writing letters to elected representatives.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) were also among the attendees.

“It is amazing to see the passion, the dedication, the commitment of these students — no fear,” Hahn said. “It is wonderful. They are focused, they are determined, they are smart and they’re getting things done already. And we need to follow their lead.”

A smaller group of counter protestors stood across the street on Route 347 holding signs in support of the Second Amendment, with several Suffolk County Police Department officers and their cars positioned on the median to separate the two groups, though no violence and minimal interaction occurred.

A package of gun control bills passed the New York State Assembly in March and will require passage by the Republican-majority state senate before becoming law. All of the students asked said they intend to vote in the next election, or the first one after their 18th birthday. Organizers from the various activist groups had a table set up during the march to help register attendees to vote.

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Commack Superintendent Donald James presented the district's 2018-19 budget draft. File photo by Greg Catalano

As Commack school officials propose nearly $300,000 in additional security measures and upgrades for next year, many parents came forward looking for the answer to one question: “What about armed guards?”

“Let’s get real — let’s make this part of the discussion,” resident Timothy Griffin said at the March 8 board of education meeting. “It makes no sense to me to not allow retired police officers that you currently have employed as security guards to carry firearms.”

Richard Schramm, director of facilities, said that Commack school district currently employs 23 security guards, most of which are assigned to specific individual buildings. A smaller number are designated as patrol guards along with two security supervisors, according to Schramm, who roam the district throughout the school day.

It makes no sense to me to not allow retired police officers that you currently have employed as security guards to carry firearms.”
— Timothy Griffin

Anastasia Vetter told board members they should be making increased security a priority over mental health monitoring.

“As much as you try to incorporate all these teachings about anxiety and how to handle children with problems, there’s always going to be one you’re not going to get,” she said. “And I don’t know if my child or someone else’s child is going to have to pay the price.”

Ian Chaikin asked why the school district is only now battening down its hatches in the event of a shooter situation.

“Parkland was tragic and the most recent but what have you been doing since the first shooting, or the second or third?” Chaikin said. “You guys gotta get on the ball.”

Another resident called for armed guards as well as locked vestibules at all eight buildings in the district, locked parking lot gates and metal detectors upon entering the school.

School administrators have built in nearly $300,000 of security upgrades to the district’s 2018-19 drafted budget. Schramm said there is $263,500 of remaining bond funds in order to install new classroom lock sets at Commack Middle School and Commack High School. The proposal also includes pulling $15,000 from the reserves to upgrade the security staff’s radios and $15,000 in the annual budget for upgrade the district’s security vehicles.

Parkland was tragic and the most recent but what have you been doing since the first shooting, or the second or third?”
— Ian Chaikin

Superintendent Donald James assured the speakers that the District Security Connector Group will be formed in upcoming weeks, consisting of Commack security personnel, teachers, administrators, board trustees, two parents for each grade level, and two community members-at-large (residents without school-aged children) in addition to the superintendent himself. This group will be charged with crafting a request-for-proposal to hire an outside agency to do a comprehensive security review of the district and consider the community’s suggestions — including whether to hire armed guards.

The funds to hire an outside security company to review the school district’s current practices and provide a list of suggestions is built into the facilities portion of the 2018-19 draft budget, according to Schramm.

Event will be held in Huntington Town Hall's parking lot March 24 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Huntington Town Hall. File photo by Rohma Abbas

The organizers of the Huntington’s school shooting protest have announced a change of location after storms blanketed the area in more than a foot of snow.

The March for Our Lives Long Island event scheduled for March 24 at Heckscher Park will be relocating across the street to Huntington Town Hall, according to student organizers. The event’s website read: “due to the severe winter storm and resulting bad grand conditions expected on Saturday the location of the event has changed.”

Huntington Town spokeswoman Lauren Lembo said town officials had safety concerns regarding the use of Heckscher Park for the rally, due to large number of people attending, multiple entrances to the park and potentially muddy fields. By comparison, there are only two entrances to the town parking lot on Irwin and Jackson streets.

“The town supports the First Amendment rights of the students to assemble and speak their minds on this national matter,” she said on behalf of town officials.

The student organizers have filed the proper paperwork and received permits to host the rally on town property, according to Lembo.

The Huntington event is being held in conjunction with the Washington, D.C., march to show solidarity with the Parkland, Florida, shooting survivors and “demand that our lawmakers make gun reform a top priority to end this cycle of gun violence in our schools and our communities at large,” the organizers’ website reads. It will feature students speakers and local residents who lost loved ones in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.

Participants and those following the events are promoting use of the hashtag #NeverAgain. As of March 22, the event’s Facebook page shows more than 900 individuals are stating they will attend.

Are you attending Huntington’s March For Our Lives March 24? Tweet us @TBRNewsMedia with your thoughts and photos. 

Harborfields High School held a student-organized HF commUNITY Summit as an alternative to National Walkout Day March 14. Photo from Twitter.

Harborfields students came together to share their feelings on school shootings and gun violence Wednesday, rather than walking out.

Harborfields High School hosted a student-organized HF commUNITY Summit in the gymnasium at 10 a.m. March 14 rather than participating in National Walkout Day, a planned demonstration in which students across the United States exited schools in protest.

“Our schools are very safe and not just because we have enough security guards, cameras or buzzers,” said Superintendent Francesco Ianni in his March message to the community. “Our schools are safe because we believe in the importance of letting children speak about their feelings and emotions as a result of the events that surround us. We are always there to support and guide our students in appropriate freedom of expression.”

Harborfields principal Timothy Russo said the schoolwide event was scheduled after he was approached by many students who expressed a desire to “do more than simply walk out of a building and congregate somewhere,” in an undated letter to the community. Student organizers led the summit that allowed any students to publicly speak about the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida Feb. 14 that killed 17 people and the ensuing, heated national discourse.

“No one should feel so unsafe in a place of such community and security,” said student speaker Sophia Braunstein. “Regardless of what political ideology you stand for, I think we can all agree that America has a problem.”

Braunstein, a senior, remembered how she was in seventh grade when the Sandy Hook elementary school shootings occurred that killed 20 children and six adults in 2012.

Harborfields senior Sophia Braunstein speaks at the schoolwide rally March 14. Photo from Twitter.

“I was left with a fear that never left,” she said. “The day after the Parkland shooting, that same feeling resurfaced and my anxiety grew so bad I asked my mom several times to leave school.”

Braunstein said even she could see the differences in the national discussion in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting, where the victims were elementary school students, compared to Parkland’s high school students who are utilizing social media to call for change.

“For students in Harborfields who feel discouraged by adults saying you shouldn’t have a voice, or we don’t know what we are talking about, don’t be,” Braunstein said. “History repeats itself.”

She cited the leadership shown by the Little Rock Nine, a group of nine African-American students who, escorted by federal troops, led the desegregation of public schools at Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas in 1957. Braunstein’s comments also touched on college students impact on public opinion of the Vietnam War in the 1960s.

“We can be and will be the generation that can say we ended mass shootings in America,” she said.

Olivia Espinoza, a student at Harborfields, said she really enjoyed hearing the passionate speeches from her peers Wednesday.

“This rally showed a beautiful side of our generation that isn’t afraid to stand up for what we believe in, contact our local senators, participate in protests and marches, and make a difference in the world,” Espinoza said. “I am confident we are on the road to change.”

Harborfields school administrators were not immediately available for comment on the event.

Huntington High School. File Photo

Following the Parkland school shooting in Florida Feb. 14, there is no denying there’s been a raging national debate over gun control measures and school safety. As the student survivors of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have spoken up, their actions have rippled outward creating a call for activism by students nationwide to have their voices and opinions on gun control heard. It has reached Long Island.

On March 14, the group Women’s March Youth EMPOWER is calling for students, teachers, school administrators and parents to walk out of schools for 17 minutes, in honor of the 17 Parkland victims, beginning at 10 a.m. The purpose of the protest, according to a website promoting it, is to shine a light on Congress’ “inaction to do more than tweet thoughts and prayers in response to the gun violence plaguing our schools and neighborhoods.” The walkout is being promoted on social media using the hashtag #ENOUGH.

“Our goal in responding to a planned student walkout is to keep our focus on teaching and learning, while at the same time providing students and staff with support in order to ensure the safety of all.”

— Brenden Cusack

Town of Huntington school districts and officials are weighing how the marches might play out here, with logistics and safety being of the utmost concern for administrators.

Huntington High School Principal Brenden Cusack sent out a letter to parents March 2 that clearly outlines the district’s stand on the upcoming walkout.

“While a school may not endorse a student walkout, Huntington High School respects our students’ constitutional rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression,” Cusack said. “Our goal in responding to a planned student walkout is to keep our focus on teaching and learning, while at the same time providing students and staff with support in order to ensure the safety of all.”

The principal also stated that students who choose to participate in the March 14 event will not be given an excused absence and will not be permitted to make up any class assignments they miss. Walkout participants will be monitored by the high school’s security staff, according to Cusack, and given specific instructions regarding how to egress from the building and provided with a staging area. Students are expected to remain in compliance with the district’s code of conduct and are not permitted to leave campus.

“In these times of heightened emotion, I ask that you please speak with your children about their feelings on this topic and any plans they may have for expressing their viewpoints,” Cusack said.

Prior to the protest, the Huntington school district will be hosting a forum titled “How Can We Stop Mass Shootings in Our Communities?” on March 13 at 6:30 p.m. in the cafeteria of Huntington High School. This student moderated forum is open to high school students, parents, family and community members “designed to engage in productive, respectful and meaningful dialogue.” Any students in attendance will be provided with community service credits, according to Cusack.

“In these times of heightened emotion, I ask that you please speak with your children about their feelings on this topic.”

— Brenden Cusack

School administrators in Elwood, Harborfields and Northport districts declined to comment on their plans for the walkout.

A second unconnected protest is being planned for April 20 to coincide with the anniversary of the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999. The organizers of this event, simply called National School Walkout, are also calling for those in school buildings to stand up and exit at 10 a.m. for 17 minutes of silence, followed by an “open mic” session in which students will be encouraged to voice their opinions. The organizers of the walkout envision a day-long event.

“We’re protesting the violence in schools and the lack of change that has occurred to stop that,” the website for the event reads. “The issue needs constant attention if we hope to change anything, so multiple events on multiple days is a productive way to help fight for our cause, a safer country.”

While the federal government deals with the political gridlock long associated with gun control, New York State is working on action to at least improve safety in the short term, though not to address gun laws.

“Every New Yorker and every American is outraged by the senseless violence that is occurring in schools throughout the country,” state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) said in a statement Feb. 28.

The state Senate approved a series of bills March 5 that include more funding for security cameras, armed police officers or security personnel for districts that want it, panic buttons, active shooter drills, better emergency response plans, hardening of school doors and more. A package of gun control measures proposed by Senate Democrats was rejected.

With additional reporting by Alex Petroski

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