By Kassie Parisi
CLIFTON PARK — “This campus is always buzzing. We have to be concerned with what’s going on on campus all the time,” Shenendehowa Central School District L. Oliver Robinson said to parents who assembled to learn about the district’s school safety procedures.
Shen held a public forum Thursday to go over current and upcoming safety procedures and to answer questions from parents about those procedures.
The forum comes after 17 people were shot and killed February at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.
“We’re here to listen,” Board of Education member Bill Casey said of the forum. “We’re on the same page.”
Robinson, along with law enforcement and other district officials, noted that the district has two different safety plans. One is required by New York state to be public, but another plan which includes building evacuation routes is kept confidential.
Shen also has multiple emergency response teams. One is districtwide and others are focused on specific buildings.
There are 12 buildings in the Shen district, with eight elementary schools, three middle schools, and a large high school.
“We have these very comprehensive plans to talk about how we respond to a wide variety of emergency situations,” Robinson said.
Shen is also planning to allocate state funding toward increasing security systems. The district has $3,926,194 that is projected to go toward implementing a district-wide public address and notification system.
The district does regular safety audits and regular training for staff and students, including active shooting drills.
Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo noted that his office has been meeting regularly with almost all area public school districts, including Shen, to see what the two organizations can do to prevent emergencies in schools.
Zurlo said his department takes every threat and incident seriously.
“I will not tolerate them,” Zurlo said of the threats.
“Your schools are safe. I can tell you that right now,” Saratoga County Sheriff Deputy Ken Cooper said.
Cooper added that he is at Shen High School East every morning. All teachers and staff are going through active shooter drills, he said.
But Cooper said people need to keep in mind that schools are supposed to be places to learn, not prisons. “We can absolutely not arm teachers,” Cooper said.
Bill McCarthy, a fourth-grade teacher at Arongen Elementary School, stressed the importance of making sure that teachers have their voices heard in the debate about how school security will change, particularly in regard to arming teachers.
“Teachers don’t tend to have a voice in these matters,” he said.
Some students from the district who participated in the forum asked what the district was going to do to educate students about emergencies
Molly Rice, a senior at Shen, noted that in her entire school career she has never known of a lock-down event being held during a lunch period.
“When it comes down to it, that is one of the easiest targets,” she said.
Robinson stressed the importance of parents and students speaking out if they notice something that has the potential to become a crisis. After emergencies, he said, people usually note that they noticed something wrong but hesitated to say anything.
“We don’t even want that to be a situation here at Shen,” Robinson said. “My plea to you as community members: Keep your eyes and ears open.”