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Safety discussions not slowing on school boards

Safety discussions not slowing on school boards

Students, school leaders discuss plans to improve schools
Safety discussions not slowing on school boards
Students at Niskayuna High School participate in a walkout and remembrance vigil for the Parkland shooting one month ago, March.
Photographer: Jeff Wilkin/Daily Gazette

The Niskayuna Central School District has tightened its school-entry procedures in response to concerns raised by students in the wake of a deadly school shooting in Florida last month. Meanwhile, districts throughout the region are ramping up security protocols to address public concerns.

A check-in desk at the high school was moved closer to the front door, so visitors will now have to provide identification and check-in before going farther into the school.

The district suspended public access to the high school pool earlier this month and has started requiring all visitors to show identification before entering – no matter how often they visit. The changes caused some small headaches as they took hold, Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra Jr. suggested at Tuesday’s school board meeting.

“There are growing pains,” Tangorra said. “We live in a different era, so I think it’s important that we remind people why some of these measures are put in place.”

Access to the pool had previously been allowed to paying residents who used it during morning, afternoon and nighttime swim sessions. About 100 individuals and households had previously taken advantage of that access, and they have all been invited to a meeting with district officials on Monday to discuss the change.

At the school board meeting, Tangorra said he hopes to find a way to restore some public access, but he has heard concerns from student lifeguards about the lack of adult supervision at the pool.

“It was the conversation we had with student lifeguards who said, 'Hey, we are alone in the morning, alone at night … we are afraid of a lot of things,'” Tangorra told the school board.

The public announcement system at the high school has been improved, in response to a request from students, and more security cameras are being installed there, too.

Tangorra also said the district is looking to use surplus money in this year’s budget to upgrade software used to track visitors to the schools.

“We are trying to determine what can be done to put some harder” entrances in place, Tangorra said. “Using some of the funds we have available to make changes sooner rather than later that don’t include armed people in the buildings, which I could not be more opposed to.”

But a broader conversation about changes to school safety is just ramping up. District officials are planning to go to voters within the next two years with a major capital project, which could include school safety elements.

Tangorra said school resource officers can play a role in schools, but that they shouldn’t be viewed as providing security so much as serving an academic role and one that connects students to a regular presence from law enforcement.

“If you want to have a school resource officer in the building for safety reasons, it’s a bad idea; it’s not the intent,” Tangorra said. “If the conversation is going to be: We need a school resource officer for protection, that’s a different conversation. At that point we are having a conversation about armed guards.”

The high school had a school resource officer from 2002 to 2008, but the position was eliminated when funding dried up.

“You definitely lost that bridge between your students and the police,” Niskayuna High School Principal John Rickert said, when asked by a board member about the loss of a school resource officer.

In Schenectady schools, students offered various perspectives on future safety improvements at the high school during Wednesday’s school board meeting, which came on the heels of a walkout demonstration at the school earlier in the day.

One student who addressed the board called for a large security presence at the high school, including more security personnel and metal detectors.

“Students do not feel safe,” student Elizabeth Canavan told the school board.

Another student said she and others agreed safety can be improved – some students have talked about not feeling like the building’s windows are fully secure – but they strongly opposed any armed officers or other armed security personnel in the school.

“We do want tighter security, but we want to reiterate that we do not want armed security officers in our schools – ever,” said Shayla Kerr, who helped organize Wednesday’s walkout.

 

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