Local Districts Respond to Parkland School Shooting

East Hampton Village Mayor Paul Rickenbach writes a message of hope on a board listing the names of all who were slain following a vigil against gun violence held for students killed at the recent shooting in a Florida high school at the Hook Mill in East Hampton on Saturday afternoon, February 17, 2018. Michael Heller photo

The Bridgehampton School District will on Wednesday discuss if it will allow Southampton Town Police to remotely access its security cameras and electronic door locks should a crisis situation arise. The Sag Harbor School District will meet next week with local law enforcement officials and its security consultant to review safety protocols, and administrators have been fielding calls from parents concerned over how the district responds to emergencies.

While those are some of the steps two local school districts are taking in the wake of the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, to make sure students and staff are safe, neither district has formally addressed the traumatic event with students during the school day.

“I think we’ve got to be careful,” said Robert Hauser, the incoming superintendent of the Bridgehampton School District, which educates three-year-olds in prekindergarten up to students in twelfth grade. “The same tactic that we would have applied to high schoolers obviously wouldn’t apply to the lower elementary grades. At the moment, we haven’t done anything with the students. Individual teachers may have, but there’s no directive from the administration to the staff to do that.”

In his weekly newsletter, Bridgehampton assistant principal Michael Miller on Friday did assure families that safety is a top priority.

“Devastating tragedies, such as the one that occurred in Parkland, Florida, this week, often send waves of shock to communities beyond the ones most directly affected and serve to highlight the importance of reviewing individual school safety practices,” he said.

Katy Graves, Sag Harbor’s superintendent, said the prekindergarten-through-twelfth-grade district does regular lockdown and fire drills in its two buildings — soon to be three buildings with the addition of Stella Maris.

“We know that our families are talking at home around their dinner table about their children’s concerns,” she said. “Our parents have been turning right around and calling us since the incident and asking those questions. They feel very comfortable reaching out.”

According to Mr. Hauser, just five days before the Parkland shooting, the Southampton Town Police Department met with a group of Southampton-area school officials to discuss gaining access to school cameras and door locks via virtual private networks (VPNs). Officers also toured all the schools the day after the shooting.

“We spent almost two hours testing the keys, looking at the blueprints, walking in and out of classrooms,” Mr. Hauser said.

The Tuckahoe Common School District has approved an agreement with Southampton Town Police for video access and Mr. Hauser said he will bring a similar suggestion to the Bridgehampton School Board on Wednesday.

“It spells out terms and conditions for when police can access those cameras,” he said. “You wouldn’t want a 911 dispatcher on there randomly just bringing up the camera and observing staff and students. It sets up parameters.”

He said Bridgehampton also faces a security challenge with classrooms housed in outdoor, modular buildings. That, he said, will be addressed with the school’s upcoming $24.7 million expansion and renovation plan, which will eliminate those modular classrooms.

“Even though it’s not necessarily a New York or Long Island issue with incidents, it’s been more national, I do feel we all have to be attentive to our individual plans,” Mr. Hauser said. “For now, our situation is unique. I think we’re going to have to focus on what’s best for Bridgehampton students and staff but keeping in mind what’s going on around us nationally.”

In Sag Harbor, which also has many security cameras, Ms. Graves said police would be given access to them in case of an incident when they arrive on campus to respond, but the district does not have the technological ability to do the same VPN system being piloted in some Southampton Town schools.

The Sag Harbor School District is in the process of building an emergency response center in the Stella Maris building, Ms. Graves said, and practices are in place such as using one main door and hiring security staff who get to know the familiar faces in the school.

“Our children are told, ‘You don’t open a door for anybody,’” Ms. Graves said. “It’s complicated, but it’s very simple. It’s really about having those relationships with our families and our students. Our experts tell us that’s one of the first foundational big rocks to keeping children safe.”

A national school walk-out — dubbed #ENOUGH — has been planned by the Women’s March organization on March 14 to protest gun violence. The idea was met with varied reactions from Ms. Graves and Mr. Hauser.

“I always support students having the right to free speech. I think that’s really important, but my job is to keep everybody safe,” Ms. Graves said. “I would have no way of keeping them safe in that situation. That would be my ultimate concern. I don’t think any of us could answer that question with a clear conscience.”

Mr. Hauser said his personal take is that he is “in favor of any peaceful means that call attention to this national issue.”