School Safety Issues Raised in Wake of Florida Shooting

Following the Parkland, Florida shooting, students and parents have questioned their safety at the New Paltz Central School District. Photo courtesy of Vivian Jaworsky.

Concerned parents in the New Paltz school district worry that their kids are “sitting ducks” at school, following the tragic mass shooting the Stoneman Douglas High School two weeks prior. 

On Tuesday night, Superintendent Maria C. Rice, along with school administrators and the New Paltz Police Department (NPPD), held a meeting to discuss school safety. Parents and community members gathered to voice criticism and suggestions about current security measures.

Exits leading to the outside of buildings in the New Paltz Public Schools require a proxy card to enter, which only teachers have access to. Students who arrive late must sign in at the front door, the single point of entry. There are three cameras one records the persons face, the other films their ID and the third watches the parking lot and walkway. All cameras are monitored daily. Additionally, teachers are required to carry radios whenever they take their students outside, in case of an emergency.

However, some parents still feel security could be tighter. Marsha Cotten, a mother and substitute in the district, described her experience on front desk duty at Duzine Middle School. 

“I’ve never felt so unprepared to protect the building,” Cotten said. “This is not enough to protect our learning environment.”

Many parents felt that the school should install metal detectors to ensure students aren’t concealing weapons in a bag or under clothes. Franko Carucci occasionally drops off his daughters trumpet case when she forgets it. He was concerned with the lack of supervision he experienced when entering the school. 

“I just have to sign in at the front floor and I can walk to the office unattended,” Carucci said. “There is no one stopping me from pulling an AR-15 out of the case.” 

Another concern debated was the lack of Senior Resource Officers (SRO) in any of the district’s buildings. In addition to providing armed protection, SROs are also told to have positive interactions, like eating lunch, with students. 

According to Superintendent Rice, the public schools haven’t had SROs in over a decade. The school board eventually decided they did not want a police officer present in the schools. However, Rice is suggesting an SRO in the new school budget, but so far the outcome is uncertain. 

New York State recently required public schools to have four lockdown drills a year according to Chief Snyder. Police have found that students become desensitized to a drill if it is repeated too often.

During drills, students are instructed to find the nearest room, call 911 and stay out of sight until emergency responders arrive. However, the public district does not have protocol in place·during “passing times” such as dismissal or in between classes. 

One parent was alarmed that the schools allowed anyone to enter the Lenape pick-up area after school. The school discussed conducting such a drill, but following the Florida shooting, the timing felt inappropriate. The university struggles with this issue as well with its open campus. 

Parents also discovered potentially dangerous information provided on the public school’s website. The site provided a floor-plan of the schools as well as a list of daycares students were dropped off at school. Administrators claim the information was initially used in case of an evacuation. However, they agreed the information should be moved to the confidential emergency plan reserved for faculty and first-responders. 

Above all, law enforcement and school administrators stressed the need for good communications in emergency situations. Administrators discussed installing a beacon that would warn people on campus that a lockdown is in place wherever they are. Currently, New Paltz Alerts and Nixle applications notify students and community members of lockdowns and other emergencies. 

Preventing an active-shooter is a community effort. Since the Parkland, Florida school shooting, the NPPD has dealt with three instances involving students being reported for suspicious behavior. The students and parents were contacted and the issue was resolved. 

Local law enforcement and school administrators continue to collaborate with the community and each other to keep the New Paltz schools as safe as possible.