Written by Ronald Scaglia, firstname.lastname@example.org Friday, 21 December 2012 00:00
When the news broke about the terrible shooting in a Newtown, CT, elementary school, the reactions of most included sadness, outrage, terror and, most abundantly, heartbreak. Newtown is a suburban community, about 90 miles from Massapequa. It is similar to Massapequa in many ways. Amidst all the shock and horror, another terrifying thought came to many people – could it happen here?
“The safety of our kids and our staff is our number one concern and priority,” said Robert Schilling, executive director for assessment, student data and technology services with the Massapequa School District. “You try to do what you can to make the place as secure as you can within reasonable limits.”
Schilling said that the school district works to make Massapequa schools as secure as possible. There is at least one security guard at every district school and every security guard is either an active or retired law enforcement official.
In addition, the exterior doors of all elementary schools are locked after students arrive and a guard monitors the traffic entering the secondary schools. The secondary school doors are not locked as Massapequa secondary schools have an open campus and students may leave and return during breaks. Furthermore, Schilling adds, all visitors must show identification before entering a school building, which is scanned by an electronic device, and that identification is checked against offender databases before entry is allowed. Once entry is allowed, an identification sticker is printed and it must be worn at all times during the visit to the school.
In addition to regular fire drills, schools also conduct lockdown and lockout drills, said Schilling. An emergency planning committee called SAVE meets on a regular basis to discuss maintaining and improving the security of Massapequa schools. Schilling said that the committee, which is comprised of administrators, the head of facilities, representatives of the Seventh Precinct and parents, would most likely discuss how the district would react to a crisis in any of the Massapequa schools.
“I go to lots of schools,” said New York State Assemblyman Tom McKevitt. “Schools do the best they can. When you have a lunatic, or you have a madman who is intent on doing something like that, it’s very difficult to stop someone like that.”
McKevitt adds that one area that should be looked at is providing better mental health services. He says that some who are afflicted with mental health disorders are not given the proper treatment to prevent their conditions from deteriorating, which can lead to tragic consequences. New York State Assemblyman Joseph Saladino concurs with this.
“We have to continue to focus on providing proper and full insurance coverage for those with mental illness,” Saladino said. “We need to continue to, and more appropriately deal with, problems associated with prescription drug abuse and addiction. These are two areas that can have an impact in terms of violent acts.”
Saladino said that coverage has to be more complete and more affordable. He referred to recent violent acts on Long Island perpetrated by drug addicts attempting to procure prescription drugs as examples of what can happen when mental health disorders and addictions are left untreated.
“I am hoping that we can do some meaningful things in Albany to reduce the chance of this happening in New York State,” he remarked.
Jamie Bogenshutz, the executive director of YES Community Counseling says that until these issues are addressed, all communities will remain vulnerable.
“We’re such a society of labeling people and putting them into boxes and what we’re finding is that they’re not staying in boxes,” said Bogenshutz. “They’re coming out and we have to take a look at all these issues that people are struggling with.”
Bogenshutz said that too often action is taken after a tragedy occurs. She says that society needs to be more proactive and do a better job of addressing issues before they turn into tragedies such as what occurred in Newtown.