By Akanksha Kar and Andrea Keckley
Upgraded security measures including increased personnel and technological equipment greeted over 700 of Elwood Union Free School District’s students and staff as they returned to their classes September 5.
The school district has increased their security guard staffing, put additional security guards in each building and identified a director of security, Superintendent of the Elwood Union Free School District Dr. Kenneth Bossert said. They have also added camera equipment and implemented a one touch lockdown system so that anyone in the building can initiate a lockdown if needed.
“Things like gun threats happen every year.” Jack, a current high school student at John Glenn High School, who asked to exclude his last name, said.
“I remember my brother went there,” Jack’s friend and former John Glenn High School student, Andrew Compton, said. “There was, like, at least four times where he had to go to the high school because they were scared for the safety of the kids.”
These safety precautions are implemented in the wake of mass shootings, such as those at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas.
“If students don’t feel safe they cannot learn, and if teachers do not feel safe they cannot teach,” Bossert said.
Compton never felt that the discipline at Elwood was as strong as his current school, Saint Anthony’s Catholic School. “There is like no security at Elwood.” Compton said. “I mean, they have someone standing there but they’re not doing anything. They don’t check bags.”
Some of the new intense efforts on security proposals could, however, have negative consequences, Professor of Teaching, Learning and Technology at Hofstra University and former high school social studies teacher, Dr. Alan J. Singer, thinks.
“I think it frightens students, rather than giving them a sense of security,” Singer said. “And I think it distracts from what the real issue is, which is to get guns out of the hands of dangerous people. Our school districts should be involved in the struggle to regulate gun ownership as the best way to protect children.”
Elwood is also putting more focus on mental health by enhancing their counselling services, providing extra suicide prevention workshops and also encourage faculty and students to practice mindfulness. “We agree that prevention for violent acts is the best form of a deterrent for safety,” Bossert said.
The school district has added an additional guidance counselor and k-12 school psychologist, Bossert said.
“Bringing in more people reduces the ratio of children they will have to work with,” Bossert said. “We did that with the thought that they would be able to have more time to dedicate to the students that require it. But also the opportunity to form more genuine relationships with all of the students.”
“I have some friends who have anger issues and stuff, they give him counseling, they try to help them as much as possible,” current student, Jack said.
“I think all schools should provide students with mental health support, and that has nothing to do with violence,” Singer said. “That has to do with a society committed to providing mental health for its young people.”
Just like Elwood has put in place new safety measures for its school, county-wide school safety proposals have also been introduced. The Suffolk County School Superintendents Association, of which Bossert is the president, recently released a Blueprint for Action to Enhance School Safety.
The blueprint consists of five points. The first is to “invest in the School Resource Officer (SRO) program.” As well as this, it calls on the New York State Legislature to “adopt legislation that enhances campus safety” and “provide institutional support to enhance school safety.” It also calls on the U.S. Congress to “make SAFE the ‘law of the land.’” Finally, the blueprint calls upon county, state and local school districts to work together to “support the social, emotional and mental health of children.”
The blueprint references the gun laws that the New York State legislature passed in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school shooting. “This bipartisan measure includes many of the provisions that our national leaders can legislate today, including assault weapons prohibition, background checks, ammunition sales, mental health screenings and more,” it states.
Before school reopened this semester, parents were invited to forums in Suffolk County, to discuss several safety precautions for Elwood by gathering parents’ feedback.
All of the nine parents approached, declined to comment on gun violence threats in Elwood.