The focus is on school safety

File photo

The focus is on school safety


SUFFOLK COUNTY—On Wednesday, Feb. 14, yet another mass shooting occurred, this time at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Seventeen people were killed and 15 more were wounded, making it the fifth-deadliest school massacre in United States history. The alleged shooter, Nikolas Cruz, 19, was arrested shortly afterwards. 

As more information on the alleged perpetrator and the shooting continues to surface, schools throughout the county – as they must do after a shooting such as this – make the rounds, detailing their plans to keep students and faculty members safe from potential incidents like these in the future.

It has been reported that Cruz, a former student at the school where the shooting was carried out, had been expelled from multiple schools and showed disturbing behavior on social media, such as posing with weapons and displaying self-inflicted wounds. He was also said to have expressed admiration for the University of Texas tower shooting, saying he wanted to be a “professional school shooter,” and to have revealed anti-Semitic, anti-black and anti-Muslim sentiments. Both his adoptive parents (who are reported to have lived on Long Island before the adoption) are deceased; his father died during Cruz’s childhood and his mother in November of last year. 

The Bayport-Blue Point School District issued a public statement following last week’s shooting. Superintendent Timothy Hearney said the district would be adding security personnel following February recess. He also said that as part of their community bond project, security vestibules will be installed in each school. “These are designed to provide an extra level of security between the interior of our school buildings and the visiting public,” Hearney said. “It is expected they will be installed by the start of the new school year.”

Hearney also included a report entitled “Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers” from the National Association of School Psychologists. The piece encourages parents and school personnel to reassure children they are safe, keep their explanations “developmentally appropriate,” review safety procedures, and observe children’s emotional states. It also suggests limiting children’s television viewing of such events and maintaining a normal routine.

Connetquot Central School District superintendent Lynda Adams responded to our request for comment.

“Our district has remained a premier advocate for school safety and security, implementing cutting-edge resources and the latest technological devices available in each of our schools to enhance our protocols and practices,” Adams said. “From all of our administrative staff being trained in FEMA incident command practices and prevention of workplace violence to the comprehensive emergency management plan we have in place, our district is striving to ensure that our learning environments are safe, welcoming and secure. However, the most important part of keeping our facilities safe is daily awareness and taking information presented to us by our stakeholders seriously.”

East Islip School District superintendent John Dolan said the district has emergency preparedness plans in place, which are practiced throughout the year. 

“Our plans and drills are not posted on the district website because confidentiality must be a part of all good security plans,” Dolan wrote in a public statement. “As we gather around kitchen tables and in classrooms over the next few days, children will have questions and discussions will occur. Please remind our children and students that in any emergency, they should all listen carefully and follow the instructions of the adults who are caring for them. If children have questions, they should ask them now, so in the event of an emergency, there is no confusion.”

Islip School District superintendent Susan Schnebel had a similar response, stating that the district regularly practices and reviews safety plans and procedures for any emergency situation throughout the year. Each building also has a Crisis Response/Threat Assessment Team that meets on a regular basis to review protocols, and last week, one day after the Florida shooting, the district says it reinforced their procedures with their staff and reminded everyone of the importance of reviewing the behaviors that may provide advance warning for events like these. 

“Our district has had safety protocols for an active shooter incident for almost eight years,” Schnebel said. “We worked closely with Suffolk County Police Department to develop protocols and partnered with them to have the first active shooter exercise in an elementary school setting.” She also added that the district has had a security consultant for 15 years, and their security team is trained in CPR, AED and “Stop the Bleed,” a new treatment to help stop severe injuries.

Sayville School District assistant superintendent John Belmonte said the administration is always looking to expand its security staff. “I think educators are aware of the changing culture and the need to address the social and emotional needs of children,” Belmonte added, citing bullying and social media as key elements.

When asked about the possibility of arming the security guards, the superintendent said that wasn’t an “appropriate” measure. He did, however, stress the importance of continuing to employ those who have spent their careers trained for emergency situations, as well as the frustration with not being able to lift the $30,000 pay cap for retired police officers. 

What these districts appear to have in common is the phrase “top priority” when it comes to protecting students and faculty members. Unfortunately, there’s only so much schools can provide in regard to security during mass shootings. That is most likely why gun control has become the most crucial topic when it comes to the discussion of how to prevent these types of tragedies throughout the country, which are unique in the developed world.

However, kids are now taking it upon themselves to get involved in the national debate regarding guns and school safety. Two events have been planned: the National School Walkout on March 14 and the March for Our Lives on March 24, where participants will take to the streets of Washington, D.C. in the hopes of raising awareness about gun violence and school shootings. 

Bay Shore and West Islip school districts did not respond to requests for comment by press time.