Members of the Half Hollow Hills school board at Wednesday's...

Members of the Half Hollow Hills school board at Wednesday's meeting. Six of the seven board members voted for the addition of armed guards in the district. Credit: John Roca

The Half Hollow Hills Central School District will add armed guards to its schools, joining a growing list of Long Island districts to deploy armed security on school grounds.

The school board passed a resolution Wednesday in a special meeting to hire Covert Investigations & Security, a New York-based company, to station armed guards at the schools. The matter was the meeting’s sole agenda item.

Six of the seven board members voted for the resolution while trustee Michael Prywes abstained.

Schools Superintendent Patrick Harrigan previously said the cost of hiring the armed guards would be about $1 million a year.

Half Hollow Hills is a large district in Suffolk County serving nearly 7,500 students in five elementary, two middle and two high schools. Harrigan said the district projected one guard outside each of the elementary and middle schools as well as the central office. The high schools are expected to get two guards each.

After the meeting Wednesday, Harrigan said all estimates are preliminary as the contract has yet to be "established." It is not yet clear when the guards will be deployed, but Harrigan said his hope is that it will be before the start of the next school year.

Several board members said they are supporting the measure to cut down on authorities’ response time in the event of an active shooting.

“This provides us with another layer of security where someone is outside the building and God forbid we need them, they'll be there to be able to respond quickly,” trustee Eric Geringswald said.

Trustee Nadia Bilal said her support was not without reservation.

“I don't believe armed guards should be perceived as the final step or even the most effective manner to ensure safety but rather just another layer, an insurance policy,” she said. “Armed guards should not give us a false sense of security.”

In recent years, a growing number of Long Island school districts have added armed security, including Montauk, Tuckahoe, West Babylon, South Huntington and Smithtown. Earlier this month, the Farmingdale school district said it will add armed security.

The South Huntington school board voted to hire armed guards in January of last year, and Smithtown announced its plan last February.

The use of armed guards in schools has been highly controversial as educators, parents and students debate whether it's effective in preventing school shootings and if resources would be better spent on other priorities, such as boosting mental health programs. Critics say additional weapons on campus add tension and hostility to an educational space and they fear students of color would be disproportionally targeted.

Jacob Muscolino, 18, a senior at Half Hollow Hills High School East, called the board’s decision disappointing. In a phone interview, he also questioned the response time rationale, given the sheer size of his school building.

“My high school is gigantic. Let’s say I was running from end to end, it would have to take me at least four or five minutes,” he said. “It's so improbable that within the first minute or two of the attack, an armed guard would be able to stop or assuage the issue.”

Their presence would change the school environment, said Muscolino, who is an executive director of the Long Island chapter of March For Our Lives, an anti-gun-violence organization.

“The guards themselves are going to create almost a more belligerent atmosphere,” he said. “I think part of what we need to curb this problem is promoting more peace in schools.”

In passionate remarks, Prywes, who abstained, called the vote premature.

“There have got to be more effective ways of strengthening safety and security than recklessly spending millions of taxpayer dollars on a couple of guys standing around by themselves all day in a parking lot just waiting for lightning to strike,” he said.

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