Area schools have smooth first day after tragedy
CAPITAL REGION School administrators in the Capital Region reported no major issues on Monday when students returned to class for the first time since the tragic student shootings in Newtown, Conn.
Over the weekend, many districts did some planning for the return of students and the possibility that some children might be struggling with grief or fear after hearing about the killing of 20 elementary school students.
In the Schenectady City School District, for example, additional staff members were posted outside the elementary schools to greet students as their parents dropped them off, said Superintendent Laurence Spring.
He said a few parents asked the staff members, who are members of the school crisis teams, about security procedures in their child’s school.
“It went really well,” Spring said about the students’ general reaction Monday. He said a very small percentage of students wanted to talk to someone about the national tragedy, mainly in the middle schools and high school.
He said all building principals held meetings with their teachers and support staff Monday to get feedback and ideas on improving security measures in place in all city school district buildings.
“We will look at these [staff] ideas and see how we might improve,” Spring said about district security. “In general, schools are safe places. What went on in Newtown was an aberration.”
In the Saratoga Springs City School District, administrators are already talking to the Saratoga Springs Police Department and state police about additional patrols around the district’s six elementary schools.
Superintendent Michael Piccirillo said he has talked to Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen about stepping up city police patrols near the schools in the city and to the state police about more patrols near the district’s elementary schools in Greenfield and Wilton and the Maple Avenue Middle School.
“We are looking at [school security] short term and long term,” Piccirillo said. The additional patrols are on the short-term list and the long-term plan includes reevaluating “all our safety plans and procedures.”
“One of the things we have been very careful about is not to have an overreaction,” said Superintendent L. Oliver Robinson of the Shenendehowa Central School District in Clifton Park.
“We have established [security] protocols, we have worked with the state police,” he said. “We need to remind people we do have protocols and make sure we enforce those protocols.”
Robinson and other school administrators noted that not all the details about how the gunman entered the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown on Dec. 14 have been released.
When the facts are known, experts will make recommendations on how schools can change their security procedures, he said.
“The short-term piece is that the safety of our schools is everybody’s responsibility. One of the things we want to do is arm people with information [on how to keep schools safe],” Robinson said.
He said some people are calling for armed guards and metal detectors. “Our schools are schools; we want them to be welcoming learning environments,” he said, and yet as safe as possible. “It’s finding a delicate balance,” he said.
In the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Central School District, Superintendent Patrick McGrath outlined safety improvements to be taken in district schools in a letter to parents and staff.
Effective immediately, there will be a staff member placed at the single point of entry into each school, who will greet visitors, check that they have a staff identification badge or issue them a visitor pass, he said.
This system is already in place at the high school but not at the elementary schools and middle school. In these schools, signs inside the front entrance had asked visitors go to the office to sign themselves in but not all visitors have done this, McGrath said.
In the Greater Amsterdam City School District, officials revisited school security protocols and talked about possible changes, said Superintendent Thomas Perillo.
“We have had a really smooth day. The teachers, the staff, all welcomed the students back,” he said about the 3,750-student district, which includes four elementary schools.
In a letter posted on the district website, Perillo reminded parents that the district guidance staff and social workers are available “if any students and/or staff need to talk about [Newtown] or their own safety in school.”
In the Scotia-Glenville Central School District, administrators got together Sunday afternoon to review district safety procedures.
Superintendent Susan Swartz and other administrators visited every school building Monday to talk to teachers and staff.
“We asked them to be on the lookout for students who may not be handling the situation well,” said Bob Hanlon, a district spokesman.
He said Scotia-Glenville district officials wanted to make sure the schools kept to a normal routine as much as possible, and added: “We have had a very quiet day.”
Schools in the Capital Region haven’t been without school gun violence and threats in recent years.
Just this fall, a 33-year-old Saratoga Springs man, accused of making threats against President Obama and an unidentified local school elementary school, was sentenced to one to three years in state prison.
Brent Dickinson had pleaded guilty to making terroristic threats in March. He is receiving treatment for mental problems.
In February 2004, a 16-year-old high school student opened fire with a 12-gauge shotgun at Columbia High School in East Greenbush. Student Jon Romano fired at least two rounds before he was tackled by an assistant principal. No students were injured but that incident brought back the fears and memory of the tragedy at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., where two students killed 15 people in 1999.
Romano was convicted of attempted murder and reckless endangerment and sentenced to 17 to 20 years in prison. He will become eligible for parole in November 2020.