Local schools respond to Newtown shooting

In the wake of last Friday's horrifying shooting at a Connecticut elementary school that left 26 people dead, including 20 children, schools around the Catskills are increasing their security. 

The Daily Mail reported this week that students at both schools in Catskill in Greene County will now find an armed police officer at the door when they arrive in the morning. An officer will be present throughout the school day, and doors will be checked on an hourly basis to make sure they remain locked. The plan will remain in place for the immediate future.

Catskill Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kathleen Farrell, also present at Darling’s office, said it will continue at least until the end of the Christmas break, Wednesday, Jan. 2, when students return to school.

State and local police in Ulster County are working with the schools there to increase police presence and to reexamine existing security measures, according to a report earlier this week in the Daily Freeman:

As of Monday and hereafter, area police agencies will have a greater presence in local schools, said Ulster County Undersheriff Frank Faluotico.

“We look at this as trying to prevent copycat incidents, and we also want the parents to feel comfortable bringing their child to school and not let one horrific event prevent their education from progressing,” he said.

Captain Robert Nuzzo of the New York State Police's Troop F told the Freeman that state police were planning to hold more in-depth training with local schools.

In the Cobleskill-Richmondville school district, about 80 parents and students showed up at a recent school board meeting to push for tighter security measures at the school, the Schoharie Times-Journal reports:

More deeply concerned than angry, parents took the opportunity to raise questions about C-R building security and emergency procedures.

Parent Jennifer Gerken pointed to an issue repeated by many: That anyone can walk into a school without being challenged for ID.
All C-R buildings have a main office right by the entrance, "but if I'm going to do something, I'm not going to stop at the office," Ms. Gerken said.

"I know we live in a small town," she told the board, "but it's not like when you and I went to school."

Cobleskill-Richmondville school board president Bruce Tyron told the crowd at the meeting that school officials were still weighing how best to respond, but that some action would be taken to increase security.

Many school districts are sending letters home with parents or posting notices on school websites to inform parents of the measures being taken to secure the safety of their children.

Downsville Central principal Timothy J. McNamara sent home a letter to parents advising them of actions similar to those in Catskill:

This is notification that all doors will be locked before and after school. This is part of the ongoing effort of the school to improve our safety plan at Downsville Central School. Parents with students participating in extra-curricular activities in need of contacting their children after 4 pm until 5 pm can call the library program @ (607) 363- 2124 or their child’s cell phone. 

Phyllis McGill, Superintendent of Onteora Central School District, issued two letters addressing the Sandy Hook shooting and the response by each of Onteora's five schools. The letters stated that McGill and the principals of Onteora schools had spoken with state police about security, but did not indicate that any policy changes would be made going forward.

Middleburgh Central Schools sent home a letter from Superintendent Michele R. Weaver to parents, that focused on the conversations about the Newtown tragedy that would happen at home, and strategies parents might use for discussing it at length with their children. The letter also described the security plan under which Middleburgh operates.

In Liberty, parents received a letter from the Liberty Central School District indicating that a new entry screening procedure will be put into place, but that the school will strive to be a "welcoming, comforting place for our students, parents and the community":

We know that in reality our schools cannot (and should not) be turned into armed fortresses, but the district will do everything we are capable of to make our children as safe as possible.

At Saugerties High School, a panic erupted briefly on social media Thursday evening, when students and parents began sharing reports that someone had used Twitter to broadcast a threat of a shooting at "SHS." The Freeman reported that Saugerties police chief Joseph Sinagra did not find any substance in the threat:

Sinagra said each time they questioned someone who had posted something about the threat on their Facebook page, they discovered the information had come from someone else’s post.

“What it boiled down to, basically, was rumor,” Sinagra said. “The best we could tell is it started out with a tweet and we couldn’t even tell where the tweet came from."