Dennis Callahan, head of the teachers union in the South...

Dennis Callahan, head of the teachers union in the South Huntington district. "I have members who are thrilled about it and others who are vehemently opposed," he said of the district's decision to used armed guards. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

The head of the teachers union for South Huntington schools said Friday that his members have strong but very different opinions on the district's decision Wednesday to use armed guards at schools.

"I have members who are thrilled about it and others who are vehemently opposed," said Dennis Callahan, who also teaches AP Spanish at Walt Whitman High School in the district.

The South Huntington school board voted unanimously to spend $750,000 to hire an undisclosed number of armed guards, who officials said will be stationed outside the seven school buildings by the end of the month. School Superintendent Vito D'Elia pointed to the long string of shootings in school settings in this country.

On Friday, Callahan said teachers supporting the move "say we are in an unsafe world, and we need to do everything in our power to ensure that when students come to school in the morning, they get home safe."

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The head of the teachers union for South Huntington schools said his members have strong but very different opinions on the district's decision Wednesday to use of armed guards at the schools.
  • Teachers supporting the move said they appreciated the district's effort to better protect students and staff.
  • Teachers opposed said they worry that bringing weapons into school opens the door to more violence.

Those opposed, he said, worry that "bringing weapons into school opens the door to more violence."

Callahan repeated concerns he lodged during Wednesday's school board meeting, noting that armed guards were present at the school shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999 and Parkland, Florida, in 2018. In addition, the school district in Uvalde, Texas, had its own police force, which has been widely criticized for its delayed response to the shootings there in May.

"I haven't heard how this plays out differently in South Huntington," he said. But at the same time he acknowledged that police and security are learning from those mistakes. 

Several Long Island school districts use armed security, including Montauk, Tuckahoe and West Babylon. School districts such as Connetquot, Massapequa, Hauppauge and Miller Place have either hired or explored hiring armed security.

No position from teachers union

The New York State United Teachers, which represents 600,000 members, has not taken a position on the use of armed personnel on school grounds, believing the decision should be left to individual districts, a spokesman said Friday.

Walt Whitman High School in the South Huntington district.

Walt Whitman High School in the South Huntington district. Credit: Rick Kopstein

The West Babylon school district chose armed security personnel in 2019, after the Parkland shootings.

"As a school district, the safety and security of our students, staff and faculty remains a top priority," said West Babylon Superintendent Yiendhy Farrelly. "We hired and continue to employ phenomenal former law enforcement officers to serve ... in our schools."

The Montauk school district also approved armed guards in the wake of the Parkland shooting. Jennifer Walker said she grew up in the area and has taught there for 23 years. She said she believes the decision was in the best interest of the school community.

"Any attempt to make it safer for students is a good attempt," said Walker, who teaches sixth-grade social studies, science and reading in the one-building district, which serves about 320 students.

Walker's father served in local law enforcement and three of the four armed school guards also had served there. The fourth is a retired NYPD officer, school officials said.

"I've known them much of my life," she said, adding that the guards come to know the students and staff. "The kids love them. They are out on the playground with them."

"Personally it gives me a sense of safety knowing there's an extra set of eyes out there, whether they are armed or not," Walker said.

Walker said school administrators talked with teacher representatives before hiring the armed guards, and that while she doesn't want to speak for every teacher, none of them have complained to her about the armed guards.

Parents split on approach

Roughly half of U.S. parents, 49%, say having police officers or armed security stationed in schools would be a very or extremely effective approach for preventing school shootings, according to a 2022 survey by the Pew Research Center.

Nakia Wolfe is a sixth-grade writing instructor at Edmund W. Miles Middle School in Amityville, as well as the head of the district's teachers union. He said he opposes bringing any deadly weapons into schools, including for security guards. He said he worries that an interaction between an armed guard and aggressive student could escalate into something potentially deadly.

"I don't think militarizing schools would be a deterrent" to violence, Wolfe said. The Amityville school district does not have armed guards, he said.

Wolfe preferred that schools focus on mental health programs, and other initiatives to harden building security, such as vestibules that require people to be checked and buzzed into a school.

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