Facilitator Dr. Jaclyn Schildkraut talks to the F-M Community Safety and Security Task Force at its first meeting held on Tuesday, Oct. 2 to discuss evolving security protocols and future goals. (photo by Lauren Young)
The first Fayetteville-Manlius School District Community Safety and Security Task Force meeting was held on Tuesday, Oct. 2, at the high school library, a group composed of 27 Board of Education-approved individuals tasked with making safety and security recommendations to the board. The task force is facilitated by Dr. Jaclyn Schildkraut, associate professor of criminal justice at SUNY Oswego, who led the Onondaga County Task Force and other similar district task forces.
Schildkraut never thought her hometown would become the site of one of the largest mass school shootings in history — until it happened on Feb. 14, 2018. She grew up in the Parkland, Fla., community, and was “just as guilty as the next person saying, ‘This is the safest place in the world,’” she said.
“I stand here as proof that it can happen there, and I stand here because I don’t want it to happen here,” she said.
As security measures heightened following the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, Superintendent Craig Tice, a participating member in the task force, said the district’s security protocols have continuously evolved over the years. This new task force aims to “maximize stakeholder group representation, but minimize the number in order to increase participation,” he said.
“Certainly the tragedies have made it all too real for all of us, but I think in some ways this conversation is very important for charting the future direction and will certainly help to inform the facilities committee and the board of education as a whole on what those next steps are,” said Tice.
With 27 individuals hailing from unique backgrounds, Schildkraut said everyone’s varying perspectives are “absolutely invaluable,” and making decisions based on evidence is essential.
“There’s a lot of people out there who are very interested in coming into this district and making money off of everybody being afraid,” she said. “A lot of those ‘suggested items’ have no evidence or support behind them, so I would encourage us, as a task force, that when we make decisions that we can support them with some type of evidence in terms of their effectiveness.”
During its first meeting, the task force briefly discussed intermediate and future objectives, starting off the discussion by brainstorming end goals for the task force in tables of three to four, and reviewing the recently released Onondaga County School Safety Task Force report. The report acts as a “baseline,” said Schilkraut, and should be modified according to this district’s particular needs.
“We’re not talking about Syracuse School District with 32 schools over, who knows how much land, we’re talking about fewer schools, a more tight-knit community, different needs, different resources,” said Schildkraut, who is currently working on a grant project with the Syracuse City School District to implement a new active shooter protocol in all 32 of its schools. “That report is not one size fits all — it’s literally just a baseline for us to build from and to tailor to how is it going to work here.”
Schildkraut reviewed major recommendations from the report, ranging from adopting a standard response protocol to ensure uniformity and encouraging a school environment to say something when something is seen. Topics of concern, according to representatives from each table, ranged from increasing random lockdown drills to future infrastructure changes.
Jeb Benzing, deputy chief of the Fayetteville Fire Department, and Manlius Police Chief Michael Crowell’s tables both discussed varying threat assessments by district, as well as the strength of the district’s locked doors and glass windows.
Mary Patroulis, library media specialist at the high school, said that current emergency drills are planned, but wondered how the district could better plan for more chaotic situations, like when several classes are using the library and need to leave at once.
“How do we do [plan for those situations] in a way where we don’t scare the kids — we empower the kids, and ourselves?” asked Patroulis.
The only person who should know about an upcoming lockdown drill is the person administering it, said Schildkraut, and the unplanned drills should be at “the most inconvenient of times,” like between class changes and lunch time.
“The reality is that a shooter is not going go, ‘ok, it’s 11:36, everybody knows that this is drill time, now we’re going to have a shooting’ —they only work on their timetable,” said Schildkraut.
Schildkraut said the best thing to do is to have a plan, and to be “consistently training it.”
“One of the things that’s going to save their lives, besides door locks, is situational awareness, and it’s very difficult to teach it, but I think that we can do that,” said Schildkraut.
Parent Alex George, a security engineer, said her table talked about using the Onondaga County report as a template and keeping the community informed about the task force’s goals.
Other points made included addressing mental health concerns and keeping substitute teachers and bus drivers informed of security protocols.
“One of the teachers who was killed at Sandy Hook was a substitute teacher who didn’t have a way to secure her room,” said Schildkraut.
Overview of district security
After discussion, Tice gave an overview of the current security measures and protocols in place, most of which followed the Columbine shooting less than 20 years ago.
“It was a real wake-up call for a lot of legislators, school officials and certainly law enforcement and EMS,” said Tice.
Project SAVE was one of the first initiatives to result from the tragedy, he said, which mandated school security and safety plans. A study by the U.S. Secret Service and the Department of Education was also released, finding, amongst other things, that shootings were “typically not random attacks,” and were most commonly carried out by “students feeling disenfranchised,” said Tice.
For the 2012-13 school year, campus security was reviewed and recommendations were made, including modifications like single point of entries and increased monitoring and cameras, which became officially operational by the 2015-16 school year.
During the 2016-17 school year, the state mandated 12 emergency drills per district — four of which had to be lockdown drills.
During the 2017-18 school year, the district hosted its first installment of active shooter training, level one and two.
Around 2011-12, the district began looking into hiring a school resource officer, and hired one in 2012-13. A second officer was hired for the 2017-18 year. This past summer a third officer was hired, covering all main campuses. Tice said the district is also considering expanding to the elementary school as well.
This year, Tice said the district is looking at its threat assessment procedures, surveying tactics and broadening its threat assessment team. The previous “Bully Button” on the old district website has also transformed into a two-way communication system called “Anonymous Tips” on the new website, said Tice, which may allow more students to feel comfortable reporting an incident.
“The number one reason why shootings don’t happen is because students with information come forward,” said Schildkraut.
The task force will be reviewing the findings of two security firms currently conducting full audits of the district: True Security Design of Suffolk County and CLPS of Westchester County. Both are focusing their studies in four key areas: access to school district buildings and grounds, surveillance, communications and emergency management plans. The findings from the firms will be shared with the board of education at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 15 at the Eagle Hill Middle School library. The task force will be charged with reviewing the firms’ final reports and prioritizing recommendations to the board prior to the final 2019-20 budget development.
The task force will present a preliminary report to the board of education on Dec. 10 with a final report to follow in early spring.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.