"Security could be much better in all schools," one mother of four told West Hempstead School District officials Tuesday as she, like many parents, reacted to the horrific mass shooting that claimed the lives of 20 first graders and six staff at a Connecticut school.
Caitlin Close pointed out that although visitors to West Hempstead High School and Middle School must pass through professional security guards, George Washington Elementary School is manned only by aides.
"I don't feel secure with them sitting there," she stated at the Dec. 18 Board of Education meeting. "Our security should not be a 70-year-old woman."
Although there is a security camera outside GW, which allows staff inside the main office to see who is approaching the entrance, Close said that the aides who are monitoring the doors do not have access to the video. She asked school officials to take an in-depth look at its security system.
Lori Finkelstein, a mother of three, asked school officials if they would consider bringing in an outside firm to access its security.
Schools Superintendent John Hogan said he’s been in talks with fellow district administrators since Friday’s shooting to review their security measures. Hiring a consultant to perform a “security audit” is one idea that did come up.
"We certainly understand we are not security experts," he added.
Each school principal reviewed their building's emergency management plan, and met with Hogan Monday to assess the district’s security together.
The review also included lock out, lock down and evacuation drills, door security, crisis communication, and an assessment of cameras currently installed and where more may be needed. (To resolve the camera situation in GW, Hogan said, the district may utilize the wifi it is currently installing to give the door monitor access via a laptop.)
Principals will be reviewing the plans with staff, and administrators will speak about security at upcoming PTA and PTSA meetings.
Reading a statement he released Saturday, Hogan offered his condolences to Newtown, and reacted to the tragedy as both a father and a school leader, stating:
"As your superintendent, I believe that each of your children are my children, and I want them to be safe. I know that all the administrators and teachers in West Hempstead feel exactly the same way."
Central administrators have been fielding parents' questions this week in person and via phone calls and emails. Teachers have been answering students’ questions, with only a few needed to speak with school psychologists and counselors.
“Students have been amazingly resilient and our school days have been normal ones," Hogan said. "The love they have been shown at home, the way in which parents have handled this, speaks volumes about the people here in West Hempstead.”
Hogan said it’s “naïve and foolish” to think a tragedy like what happened in Newtown could not happen here.
“We will continue to do our best to prepare for any emergency situation that could arise," he said, but added, "I don't know how, truthfully, you prepare for a deranged individual who has an assault weapon in their hands.
“I can't imagine why anybody would need … an assault weapon if they are not in the Marine Corps, a Navy Seal, or defending our country,” he added. “It's just something I can't wrap my head around."
Hogan also urged local families not to allow the recent tragedy to take away their joy, adding, “There still must be joy in our lives."