Administrators and faculty in the East Hampton School District and at surrounding schools have begun reviewing existing safety measures following the shooting deaths of 20 students and 6 adults at a school in Connecticut last week.
Richard Burns, the East Hampton superintendent, speaking at a school board meeting Tuesday night, said immediate steps had been taken to improve security at each of the district’s three schools and at its bus facility.
“Plans are in place; they are constantly being reviewed,” Mr. Burns said.
Mr. Burns said a meeting among administrators and buildings and grounds personnel was scheduled for tomorrow. Additionally, he is planning to meet with both East Hampton Village Police Chief Gerard Larsen Jr. and East Hampton Town Police Chief Edward V. Ecker Jr.
“We know there are some issues that need to be addressed, and we won’t be complacent with this,” he said.
George Aman, the East Hampton School Board president, asked each of the district’s three principals to briefly describe their response following Friday’s shootings.
Adam Fine, the high school principal, said an exterior “breezeway” that had been used by students and faculty to pass from one section of the building to another had been closed off. Parents and others visiting the school must now enter via the main office and will be required to show identification to reach other parts of the building, he said. Students have been told not to allow anyone — even other students who leave the school during the day for any reason — back into the building.
Two “lockdown” drills are being planned, Mr. Fine said. The first is expected before the holiday break, with the other sometime in January. He said that he and the staff would have to also reconsider procedures for after-school events, such as sports and theater practices.
Gina Kraus, the principal of John M. Marshall Elementary School, said she had reviewed security steps with her staff on Monday. One area of concern that was identified during meetings was that lunch monitors did not have any form of immediate communication with the rest of the school while they were outside with students.
She also said she had observed a “vulnerability” with after-school programs, in particular Project MOST, which provides homework help and other services to students. As a result, she has had a staff member assigned to the building’s front desk and visitors can only be let in after identifying themselves.
During her remarks, Mr. Burns said parents of students also have to cooperate with security measures and not walk among classrooms, for example to check on their children. “They should do their business at the main office,” he said.
Mr. Burns also said that the elementary school should no longer be designated as a polling place by the Suffolk Board of Elections. “That’s a day we really don’t have any control,” he said.
Speaking on behalf of Charles Soriano, the middle school principal, Robert Tymann, the district assistant superintendent, said that a review of procedures there suggested that the school’s security cameras could be improved.
Paul Fiondella, a district resident who has in the past sought a seat on the school board, spoke up after Mr. Tymann to ask about the role of teachers in identifying students who may be at risk of committing violent acts and whether the schools were able to help their parents in any way.
Mr. Burns assured him that the district did have such programs. “We have in place crisis teams to identify kids who may be struggling,” he said. “We are very aware of this and there are many behind-the-scenes things going on.” He mentioned that the school budget contained $10,000 for student psychological evaluations.
He also said that several parents had e-mailed him in recent days to ask about getting a regular police presence at the elementary and middle schools and offered money to help pay for it. A town police officer is assigned to the high school during the day, Mr. Fine said.
Larry Cantwell, the East Hampton Village administrator, said yesterday that any conversation about adding an officer to a schools assignment would ultimately have to involve both the village board and school board.
Like many other South Fork schools, the Amagansett district sent a letter to parents in the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn., shootings. Eleanor Tritt, the Amagansett superintendent, wrote that her school’s staff trained throughout the year on emergency procedures. Even before Friday’s attack at the Sandy Hook School, Amagansett’s annual lockdown drill had been scheduled; it will be on Jan. 17.
Ms. Tritt said that Officer Kim Notel, who is involved with the town police department’s anti-drug school outreach, had met with staff and members of the board of education on Monday to go over procedures and consider improvements.
In an interview yesterday, Ms. Tritt said, “We are reviewing all our safety plans and discussing together any modifications to our building that we feel would be an enhancement of security, as are all districts.”
Montauk’s principal and superintendent, Jack Perna, in a message posted on the school Web site late Friday, said he had spoken by phone to Chief Ecker and Officer Notel that day about security. A meeting with police and school staff took place on Monday.
Mr. Perna said in an e-mail on Tuesday that one immediate outcome of the meeting was that parents will no longer be allowed to walk their children to their classrooms in the morning.
In a longstanding procedure, the front door of the Montauk School is always locked, and visitors must press a button to be allowed in. All the other doors are always locked. During school hours everyone must enter through the front door.
An e-mail in English and Spanish from Eric M. Casale, the Springs School principal, referred parents to the “For Parents” section of the school handbook. He reiterated that no one is admitted into the building before 7:25 a.m. and that students are not allowed to return once they are dismissed at the end of the day.
Mr. Casale said he had been speaking with Captain Chris Sarlo of the East Hampton Town police in the wake of the Connecticut shootings about the next steps.
Gregg Maloberti, the interim head of school at the Ross School, which has school buildings in Bridgehampton and East Hampton, said in an e-mail to parents that it had private security officers stationed at each campus. Extra staff members will be posted at school entrances, and faculty and staff have been instructed to review emergency procedures, Mr. Maloberti said.
Chief Ecker said in an interview Tuesday that the East Hampton Town Police Department has been revisiting its procedures in the remote chance of a school attack or an assailant at another public place.
“It was a coincidence, but this week we had a drill of the emergency services unit,” he said. The unit, a joint operation between East Hampton Town, East Hampton Village, and the Sag Harbor police, would be mobilized in the event of such an attack.
“The schools have their plan in place. The important thing is that we know the school’s plan and they know our plan,” said the chief.
It was unfortunate, he said, that it took such a tragedy as happened in Connecticut to get people to address the risk. “It’s gun control. It’s mental health. You kind of wish there was a magic wand for something like this, but, sadly, there isn’t,” he said.
In East Hampton Village, Chief Larsen said, “We’ve worked together with the schools for years. It got going after Columbine. We do school assessments. We do movie theater assessments. There is a lot of communication back and forth, a lot of cooperation. The schools and the police departments are prepared to act.”
Chief Larsen said his department had floor plans for the village’s two school buildings and its theaters, as well as keys to important buildings.
“We work with the schools on their state-mandated plans. We meet monthly and discuss,” he said.
With reporting by
Christopher Walsh, Janis Hewitt, and T.E. McMorrow