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Cuomo plan to put troopers in some schools off to rocky start

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, left, with Suffolk County

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, left, with Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone at Central Islip High School on Sept. 13, 2017, as he announces a plan to install state troopers at some Long Island schools. Credit: James Carbone

Educators are pushing back at Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s plan to install state troopers at certain Long Island schools, making a rocky start for the quickly hatched proposal.

One school said it doesn’t want to participate until it knows more. One has made clear it’s not interested. Another, contending it was targeted incorrectly, persuaded the governor’s office to write a letter acknowledging there were no gangs in its schools.

And in one case, troopers showed up at Brentwood the day after Cuomo’s Sept. 13 announcement to the slight consternation of school officials.

“They had no details on what the plan entails. They said they were sent to the schools to introduce themselves,” said Brentwood Superintendent Richard Loeschner. “To be honest, we weren’t thrilled they showed up without calling ahead first. . . . It would’ve been nice to know what the program was about, prior to people showing up.”

“They admitted they don’t have a curriculum yet,” said Michael Lonergan, Longwood superintendent. “I think the governor’s office understands more work needs to be done on that . . . but I think this is something that could be on the horizon in the next month or two.”

Longwood fought against being lumped in as having one of the “highest incidents” of gang-related activity, as the governor characterized the targeted schools. Eventually, Longwood’s protest triggered a subsequent letter from a Cuomo staff lawyer to the school admitting the designation wasn’t made on reports of gang activities in its schools.

“Further, we acknowledge that neither the Longwood SHS nor the JHS experience gang activity in their buildings,” Latizia Tagliafierro wrote in a letter the school has posted on its website.

The Cuomo administration, while not addressing all the complaints, said it never asserted that a curriculum was ready to go, but instead would be developed going forward with the schools’ help. Officials also said how the troopers would interact with students, teachers and administrators would be tailored to the needs of each school.

“State police will work with and augment existing local law enforcement programs already in effect in schools,” Alphonso David, counsel to the governor, said in a statement. “As this antigang initiative is advanced and implemented, we are working with school officials, community members and immigrant advocacy groups to develop a curriculum that will fit the individual districts and the communities. The one option that is not on the table is inaction — too many kids have already died and too many lives have already been destroyed because the gang problem was able to take hold and metastasize.”

The governor’s announcement was made in Islip to fanfare at Central Islip High School, marking the anniversary of the slayings of Brentwood teenagers Kayla Cuevas, 16, and Nisa Mickens, 15, by MS-13 members. The governor said the “Gang Prevention Unit” would educate teachers on how to identify early signs of gang activity and serve as a resource for students and parents seeking help.

“Schools are where a lot of these gangs actually operate,” Cuomo said at Central Islip High School. “That’s where they recruit. That’s where they intimidate. That’s where they meet. And this is a problem that the school system does not deal with.”

He identified 10 schools with the “highest incidents” of gang-related activity. But only after the announcement is anyone sitting down with the Cuomo administration to actually develop plans for how the troopers might assist, some administrators told Newsday.

“We have declined until we know more about the program,” Joseph Giani, superintendent of the South Country school district, wrote in an email. The district’s Bellport High School was one of the campuses singled out by the governor.

Giani said he had a meeting with the governor’s office just before the announcement, but “no details” were provided, adding, “We have been promised to be included in planning and what [the] program looks like.”

Others told similar stories.

Huntington school district Superintendent Jim Polansky said school officials were invited to the Cuomo event but weren’t clear what it concerned. Then, Polansky said: “I saw the press release and I went ballistic.” He said the district was “utterly blindsided” by the inclusion of Huntington High School.

“I pushed back hard against this from the get go. This was done wrong,” said Polansky. “Putting a state trooper at a high school without a plan is not a sound approach.”

After strongly stating his objections to the proposal and the inclusion of Huntington High School, Polansky said he hasn’t heard anything since from the governor’s office. And he doesn’t expect to.

“Everything I’ve received since is that we definitely aren’t part of this,” Polansky said.

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