By Andrea Paldy
The Three Village school board meeting opened to a packed cafeteria at R.C. Murphy Junior High March 14 following a moment of silence in memory of the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. Foremost on the minds of its attendees was still school security. Following the tragedy in Parkland, Florida, exactly four weeks before, parents wanted to know how the district would continue to ensure their children’s safety.
Prepared to voice their concerns, some parents came armed with statistics and studies, while others wielded their experience in law enforcement. But, before public participation, which took place at the end of the meeting, those gathered heard a detailed and, in his words, frank presentation from security coordinator and chief emergency officer Jack Blaum.
“It is impossible to create a bulletproof plan,” he said. By regularly analyzing national and world incidents, Blaum said he can identify and bolster what the district is doing to safeguard schools.
For example, one of the best plans the district has in place is its “default lock-out” of the buildings, Blaum said. External doors to schools are locked during the school day and for some time after it, he said. To be admitted to district buildings, visitors must undergo two-pronged vetting, which entails showing ID before being buzzed through the first door into a vestibule, and then having that ID, typically a driver’s license, scanned before anyone is allowed through the second door.
In addition to bullet-resistant film over glass around the schools, every school in the district has at least two security guards — there are three at the junior highs and 13 at the high school — and all are active or retired law enforcement officers, Blaum said. After hours, there continues to be security presence and surveillance cameras running in and outside of the buildings.
Blaum explained that staff is trained in lockdown procedures and options in an active shooter situation. Each school has lockdown drills with staff and students four times a year. There are hidden panic buttons around district buildings to call a lockdown. Blue strobe lights and sirens are activated and are purposely loud and distracting to make it difficult for anyone, especially an attacker, to concentrate, the security coordinator said.
Administrators have extensive emergency management training, including on how to control severe bleeding. Security personnel is also receiving emergency management technician training in addition to learning how to recognize explosives and manage a bomb incident.
“We need to not be afraid of calling out the behavior of other children.”
— Janine Salgado
There is also a system that provides direct communication with emergency services at Suffolk County Police Department’s 6th Precinct and Stony Brook and Setauket fire departments, as well as shared communication channels. Blaum also explained how any student and staff following “see something, say something” protocol is also beneficial.
“I need intel instantly,” he said. “All the red flags were missed,” he said referring to the Parkland school shooting incident.
It wasn’t until the end of the presentation that Blaum hit on the issue of arming teachers.
“That is not going to happen,” he said to applause..
Regarding an armed security guard presence, he said the district is exploring its options.
“It has a tremendous amount of moving parts to it,” Blaum said.
Parent Robert Kronenberg, an attorney and former New York Police Department officer, agreed that an armed presence would require a lot of tactical planning, and expressed confidence in Blaum’s approach and ability.
He added, however, that if there’s a shooter in the school, he believed there’s only one thing that’s going to stop that.
“It’s not some security guard, it’s not just some guy with a gun that you hire,” Kronenberg said. “It’s a former or current law enforcement officer who has the tactical training and the guts to confront a shooter while that shooter wants to kill every child he sees walking down the hallway.”
Two other parents expressed similar sentiments. However, the majority of the close to 20 speakers on Wednesday felt differently.
“There is no evidence that an armed presence increases security.”
— Bethany Riddle
“There is no evidence that an armed presence increases security,” said psychologist and parent Bethany Riddle. “On the contrary, while it might provide a perception of safety, research indicates that the presence of armed guards increases the risk of violence and injury.”
Most speakers echoed Riddle’s thoughts, suggesting that more resources be put toward psychological and social welfare, anti-bullying measures and teaching kindness.
“We need to not be afraid of calling out the behavior of other children,” said Janine Salgado, a mother of three. “And being comfortable and calling those parents and telling them what you see.”
Assistant superintendent for business services Jeffrey Carlson gave a preliminary report on the budget for the 2018-19 school year. The cap on the tax levy increase will be 1.97 percent, an estimated $3 million, Carlson said.
Though he does not anticipate a big increase in state aid, he said there will be no cuts for budgetary reasons. There will, Carlson said, be an increase in the district’s contributions to the employee and teacher retirement funds. To cover the $1.5 million increase, the district will use funds from the reserves, which are set aside precisely to cover such expenses, he said.
“While we never look at using reserves lightly, it’s what it’s there for — to help mitigate the increase in the retirement system cost,” Carlson said.
Additionally, the district will continue to plan for capital projects, which are reimbursed by the state at a rate of 66 percent. As has been the case with many of the projects over the past few years, many projects on deck will be related to safety and security, Carlson said.