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West Hempstead Parent Asks School Officials to Beef Up Security

District assessing its security in wake of Friday's school shooting in Newtown, CT.

"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."

Michelle Somma Graci December 19, 2012 at 08:03 PM
Same at Cornwell. Maybe the aide can sit in the "lobby" between the doors, verify the visitor when they enter and before the go into the main building area. A lot of things can be done without hurting the budget if you just use some common sense like maybe leaving your ID with the aide instead of a quick check and you pick it up when you leave. Better than signing a sheet of paper.
Goldstar December 19, 2012 at 08:58 PM
Having an aide verify visitor information is useless and senseless. How would that, how could that, possibly deter someone with a semi-automatic rifle ? What we need to do is arm all students and teachers and teach them to protect themselves.
Michelle Somma Graci December 19, 2012 at 09:26 PM
There are many benefits to security. I hope I NEVER live to see the day that I send my kids to school past an armed guard,. That is an extreme situation. NO ONE would be able to deter a maniac with a semi automatic rifle. What now? Arm the kids and teachers? Seriously? Will we prohibit them from going outside for recess as well? What about class parties and plays? I am also concerned with unattended adults roaming the halls with our children and simply suggesting collecting IDs at the door would ensure that anyone would know who was in the building at a given time as well as making sure no one leaves by another exit. Lets try and be realistic here.
Thomas Nathan December 19, 2012 at 10:35 PM
Michelle - having a aide collect id's would do nothing in a case like we have seen in Ct. Unless you have armed guards with metal detectors you cannot prevent an incident like this. I agree in all schools there are too many people wandering around. We dont need them there. The PTA and all these other people dont need to be in a school every day. Your choice is either not to let them in or go with metal detectors.
Michelle Somma Graci December 19, 2012 at 11:13 PM
I am not saying an aide would stop an armed man. I did say no one would be able to stop someone like him. I do think this is the act of an insane person and not the norm. On the other had there are issues with security in my opinion that can be improved upon. Security to me is not only about the extreme situation. Armed gaurds at school and metal detectors are not going to happen. But there are other less expensive and smart solutions to the issue if one choses to look for them.
Michelle Somma Graci December 20, 2012 at 12:02 AM
Without the PTA there would be no school pictures, no yearbook, no PARP, no assemblies, no teacher appreciation day, no mothers day boutique, no book fair, no class parties, no plant sale, no graduation celebration or basically any of the other wonderful programs they offer the kids. I dont not think that the members on the PTA who generously volunteer their time for the kids are the ones we need to be concerned about in our buildings. Those are the exactly the type of people we need more of in this world.
Thomas Nathan December 20, 2012 at 12:30 AM
@ Michelle First off we never know who the next nut case would be. This person was the child of someone who worked at the school. Of course we would have never thought a teachers child would do such a thing - but they did, If we really want to protect our children we need better measures. You can still have all those events just make the people go through a metal detector, While we always say we dont want to look like the city - these things havent happened in schools in the city with metal detectors. A half way measure like an aide collecting id's does absolutely nothing.
Michelle Somma Graci December 20, 2012 at 01:04 AM
A metal detector would not have stopped him either. Again, I say nothing would stop someone with a death wish, an automatic rifle and the intent to kill. I am simply saying armed lunatics are not the only security issues we have. Some reevaluation and simple changes may also help. Metal detectors would not address the safety of the kids on the bus or at recess either. Someone could easily harm the kids from across the street or the parking lot or through the windows. As a parent i would feel better if there was more attention paid to who was in those buildings with my kids at any time.
Thomas Nathan December 20, 2012 at 04:02 AM
@Michelle A metal detector would have identified the presence of the guns and the armed guard at the detector would have prevented his enterance to the building. The only thing that is going to stop a person with a death wish is another person with a gun. Yes your kids could be harmed in all those situations as the could be harmed standing in front of your home waiting for the ice cream truck. Simple changes will do nothing and as the old saying goes its like rearranging deck chairs on the titanic. Keep everyone out of the school building unless they go through a metal detector thats the only thing thats going to work. Sorry the idea of a 60yr old aide sitting there collecting id's is useless.
Michelle Somma Graci December 20, 2012 at 01:13 PM
Simple changes may not stop an armed man but may help other security issues. I am frustrated by the extremist all or nothing answers people are so quick to shout out when they know those solutions are not realistic. Maybe in your perfect world all public buildings would have armed gaurds. But we dont live in a perfect world. Our budget can hardly satisfy educating our children , it is never going to support your solution. Way not be open to other , yes,maybe less effective measures but still worthwile? It wouldnt cost the district anythign to make a few changes to Cornwell. Have the aide sit inbetween the doors, check ID, all visitors must have a reason for being in the building. Teachers could notify the desk of who is expected for a party, appoitment or meeting. Anyone showing up otherwise would not be allowed in. Just suggestions to make things more secure in all respects. We dont have police with breathaylzers at every entranceof the parkway to stop drunk drivers? That is not a something we can financailly of logistically support. Be we have other ways to try to deter drunk driving. I dont beleive an aide is useless, they are certainly not stopping anyone with a gun but their presence can be put to better use. Short of locking yourself in a bullet proof bunker you are in danger any time you walk out your door. I am not niave, just trying to come up with some tangable ideas that may improve this violent world we will never be prepared enough for.
Thomas Nathan December 20, 2012 at 02:01 PM
@Michelle I am still trying to figure out what problem you are trying to solve for with this aide idea. Has there been an issue that we need to deal with short of the issue in CT? We have not had problems and like I said the aide will not solve any others. Having a nut cases id sitting on the aides desk does no good once that nut case is inside the school. If your concern is just that there are too many people in the school then get rid of all the PTA moms who have nothing better to do than hang out at the school all day thinking they are helping. Seriously though the aide create a useless job that you might think offers some protection when it in reality offers none to our students.
Michelle Somma Graci December 20, 2012 at 02:14 PM
The aides, our our eyes and ears in a building where everyone else is busy doing their job. They "aide" the staff in what needs to be done. In my poinion anyone who enters that building with our kids needs to be verified and accounted for. Thats all. Theyalso assist kids, keep track of visitors and direct children and parents on where to go. No they are not policemen nor do I expect them to be. I am suggesting they do that job from a lobby area, outside the main building in which case if a problem does arrise it wouldnt be inside the school. I feel this is possible at Cornwell, someplace I have spent a lot of time as one of those PTA moms. I can also assure you we are not hanging around doing nothing. The next time a child comes home from school with pictures, or seeing a show or going to a book fair you can thank me.
Thomas Nathan December 20, 2012 at 03:46 PM
@Michelle Just to let you know I pay for those pictures and the book and holiday fairs are just a waste of money and a fundraiser for the PTA. But again the aides are going to do nothing to prevent a problem. So what an ID is dropped off at a desk that will do nothing to prevent someone whose goal is to commit a crime in a school. In the end we need to fix the probelm correctly. We cant fool ourselves that these bandaid approaches do anything to help address issue.
Michelle Somma Graci December 20, 2012 at 04:17 PM
You do not pay for the people who run those programs. The yearbook doesnt make itself, the bookfair doesnt set up on its own. A huge amount of work goes into that stuff done by volunteers. The PTA is not the problem in our schools. I cant even believe an issue about a maniac with a gun has come to throwing out the PTA. Lets just fire all the aides and leave the door wide open for anyone. They will get in if they want so whats the point trying to discourage them. Sorry, not the way I look at things.
Thomas Nathan December 20, 2012 at 04:39 PM
@Michelle The one problem you dont seem to understand is I know how these programs work. The school photographers pay a kickback to take pictures at the school. The book fairs and holiday fairs are fundraisers for the PTA. But getting back to the issue of protecting the children. All people entering the school need to be screened. That includes the PTA moms. They should all go through a metal detector. Again having an aide there does not fix any problem. It may make you think things are better but in reality does nothing. Having a metal detector with an armed guard WILL solve the problem.
WHMomOfFour December 20, 2012 at 05:49 PM
Having a metal detector with an armed guard ?? I agree with Michelle. There has to be more done to account for who is in the building, interacting with our children. PTA moms, certainly do not "do nothing" - like mIchelle said if it weren't for the PTA moms, things at school would not happen. Yes they receive "kickbacks", which goes towards programs and things FOR THE KIDS !! That is just an ignorant statement, considering you claim to know how the PTA works. I am a mother of four in WHUFSD in three different schools. A metal detector does not solve any problems. This "nutjob" shattered the window and entered the school. So what if there was a metal detector?? I think if the person in the lobby as Michelle suggests could see the person for themselves, instead of being buzzed in by a third party sitting in an office -you can tell a lot about people, their mood, demeanor - just by looking them in the face. Granted not all the time, but I would personally like the aide or guard who is allowing someone to enter, to look them in the face themselves. Guards/Aides should not be 20-30 feet away from the door they are monitoring. There are too many places a person can go if they are not questioned upon arrival. We must start small. Unfortunately, this is something that will have to grow over time.
Michelle Somma Graci December 20, 2012 at 05:50 PM
I am not saying it wouldnt solve having a maniac with a gun enter the school. Read above where I said it is not realisticly going to happen in our districts fututre. I am just trying to come up with some other suggestions. I agree all people should be screened. My issue with the aide is again , that they be situated someplace *before the visitors even get inside the building. If that can be easily accomplished by moving their desk to an outer vestibule then why not be open to that suggestion? I will leave that to the board when they do their evaluations. I am also aware that those programs the PTA runs, while also being wonderful for the children, are fundraisers, the money raised goes to providing more programs, shows, and activites for the kids. In my mind that is not a bad thing to provide to our children. Everything is run by volunteers, completely optional and gives the kids those extras that are not affordable in the budget. A school that doesnt welcome what the PTA provides is really sad.

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