The elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., has raised concerns in towns and villages across America about the safety of their local school buildings and the children learning within them. Skaneateles is no different.
Interim Superintendent Judy Pastel said Skaneateles administrators took actions in their district to improve school security immediately upon hearing of the Dec. 14 shootings in Connecticut, and also currently are reviewing the safety and emergency plans throughout the district.
“I believe our children are safe, but the people of Newtown thought their children were safe,” Pastel said. “I don’t think we should be worried, but we must do our due diligence and be aware of individuals who may be making violent statements.”
Pastel described the Skaneateles CSD security measures and changes during the Dec. 18 Skaneateles Board of Education meeting.
“Some things were done immediately,” Pastel said, including a new policy where each of the four district school buildings now have only one point of access during the school day. Entrance to the schools will also be more limited to parents and the public during school events, for example, people who liked to arrive 30 to 40 minutes ahead of a scheduled program will no longer be able to enter the building so far in advance. “This will just give us a better sense of control,” she said.
Monday morning, Dec. 17, the first school day after the Friday shootings in Connecticut, Pastel visited all four school buildings and every principal was “on top of things” and had counselors, psychiatrists and other support staff on site and prepared to offer help to anyone who was in need, she said. Parents have been most concerned with the two elementary buildings, she said, and principals Steven Widrick and Gary Gerst have been available every morning to talk to parents and discuss their concerns and fears. The elementary schools also both have had staff meetings to discuss with teachers how they can especially address stress or fears from students of the age groups targeted in Connecticut.
Because of the school break-ins a few months ago, the district already had re-keyed all of the exterior school doors, and now the district is moving toward implementing new school access points with key cards specifically for administrators, teachers and support staff.
The new system will consist of key cards and card swipers for all four buildings, with an anticipated implementation date of Jan. 15, said Dale Bates, assistant superintendent for business and finance. Once the new cards are issued, all “hard keys” will be reclaimed from district staff, he said.
The new key card system will not only allow administrators to know in real time who is in each building, but can also be used to limit times that each building can be accessed, such as specific hours during weekends, Pastel added.
“We’re going to continue to look at this and see what we can do to improve our emergency plans and access to the buildings,” Pastel said.
Pastel said she is working to have BOCES security and safety coordinator Mark Snyder some to the district and review the plans currently in place “to see if there’s anything we missed.” She and the building principals also have spoken with the local New York State Police officers who patrol Skaneateles and Marcellus, who said they will be doing “drive-arounds” of all four schools and school parking lots, as well as the village, three times per shift, or 12 times per day. The troopers will not be entering the schools, only creating a presence in the area as a reminder to everyone that law enforcement is not far away, Pastel said.
The Skaneateles Village Police Department already patrols the four school buildings continuously every day, but since the shootings in Connecticut the department has made sure to have a patrol car visible around the school buildings at the start and end of every school day, said Skaneateles Police Sgt. Marty Stevens.
“We check the schools pretty religiously,” Stevens said. “It’s always been part of our daily checklist.”
In addition to building security and district safety plans, the best preventative measure in any community is collective vigilance, Pastel said. If people seem to be mentally distressed or making threats against a person or a group of people, it should not be “shrugged off” but should be reported to the proper authorities, she said.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Skaneateles Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.