In what experts are calling the one of the worst school shootings in history, a gunman opened fire on a Newtown, Conn., elementary school, killing 27 people and injuring at least three more. The majority of the victims were children.
In the early stages of the investigation, police have not yet said how the shooter, tentatively identified as 20-year-old Adam Lanza, entered the school. They believe his target was his mother, Nancy, a teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary. Nancy Lanza was one of six adults killed in the shooting.
Inevitably, in the wake of such a tragedy, parents in Central New York will wonder what their children’s schools are doing to prevent something similar from occurring here. In North Syracuse and Liverpool, administrators want parents to be sure that all measures are being taken to protect their children.
“It’s just horrible,” said Donald Keegan, assistant superintendent for management for the North Syracuse Central School District. “Obviously, any school around the state is going to be shaken right now, and we’re all thankful it’s not happening in our district. But it raises the concern: Could it happen here?”
Keegan and Liverpool Central School District Superintendent Dr. Richard Johns both said that the security systems in place made such an event unlikely.
Both districts have similar precautions in place. Liverpool and North Syracuse both use Raptor’s V-Soft technology, which requires visitors to provide a driver’s license or other form of photo identification upon entering the building. The ID is scanned, and the Raptor system performs a background check to screen for registered sex offenders, restraining orders, domestic disputes, custody and visitation violations and more. If a potential threat is identified, the system alerts administrators and/or law enforcement personnel immediately.
In addition to the Raptor system, both districts use a single-point-of-entry system to restrict access to their buildings. Visitors can only access the building through one door, through which they have to be buzzed in. Employees have security access cards that allow them into any door, but only to particular buildings at particular times. Otherwise they must use the single point of entry system.
Both districts also have security on staff. As a larger district, North Syracuse has a higher security presence (North Syracuse has a student population of around 10,000, while Liverpool’s is closer to 7,400).
“At the high school, we have a full contingent of security guards as well as School Resource Officers [SRO] from the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Department,” Keegan said. “They’re uniformed officers, armed with guns and tasers. They’re highly trained. We’re very fortunate to have them on the premises in four of our buildings.”
In addition to the SROs at the high school, there are two more at the junior high, as well as one at each of the middle schools.
Keegan said he’s a “big believer” in the SRO program.
“They don’t miss a thing,” he said. “We’ve got 2,200 kids at the high school and another 1,400 at the junior high. They’re really a worthwhile investment.”
Liverpool, meanwhile, maintains a security presence at the high school, headed by former Clay Police Officer Mike McCarthy.
North Syracuse’s schools are also outfitted with security cameras, which provide a live feed to the district office.
“That way, if there’s an emergency situation, if something like this were to happen, we could get the authorities on the premises right away and they’d be able to look at the video,” Keegan said.
Johns, whose wife is an administrator in nearby Danbury, Conn., said he preferred to pass on the video feed at Liverpool in favor of preventing a problem situation from occurring in the first place.
“They wanted to put in cameras, but I said, ‘I don’t want cameras showing me who’s already in the building. I don’t want to let these people in the building in the first place,’” he said.
Keegan admitted he worried about events like the one in Newtown.
“I’ll be honest, it keeps you up at night. We believe we have a bead on everyone and we’re doing everything we can, but it’s a tall order,” Keegan said. “But I can say with confidence that the North Syracuse Central School District has done everything that is prudent. Every district could do more, but we’ve done all the things that are considered good practices to keep our kids safe.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.