A security officer keeps an eye on the video monitors...

A security officer keeps an eye on the video monitors at Carle Place High School in 2018. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Long Island school districts are reviewing past security measures and adding new ones as educators grapple with how best to protect students and reassure parents after Tuesday's mass shooting in Texas.

Not long after the massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 children and two teachers were shot to death by an 18-year-old man later killed by police, district administrators and police officials in Nassau and Suffolk announced plans to bolster security. Police in both counties Wednesday increased patrols and reached out to school district leaders about any possible holes in long-in-place security measures.

Both Nassau and Suffolk have embraced a long list of campus security upgrades in recent years, including video systems, weapons detectors, guards — some of them armed — and technology designed to initiate an immediate response from police. They have trained teachers and children to identify and report behavior that may indicate an imminent attack, such as threats of violence or an obsession with guns. They have conducted drills with staff and students on how to respond if someone with a gun breaches security and opens fire in a school building. 

“Long Island schools have made it a priority to make it difficult for intruders to get into buildings,” said William Johnson, who was the superintendent of Rockville Centre schools for 34 years and now serves as the state-appointed monitor for the Hempstead school district.

On Wednesday, Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said safety measures already in place were protecting students in the classroom as much as possible.

“I’d like to tell you we could protect everybody and every moment of the day,” Ryder said at a news conference. “Impossible, but the more preventive work that we do prevents them from conducting their acts against us.”

In Hempstead schools, campus visitors will be screened and only allowed in with...

In Hempstead schools, campus visitors will be screened and only allowed in with an appointment, said Superintendent Regina Armstrong, in a letter to the community. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

In Hempstead schools, campus visitors will be screened and only allowed in with an appointment, said Superintendent Regina Armstrong, in a letter to the community. Brentwood schools Superintendent Richard Loeschner said in a statement that the district is working with Suffolk police and will provide extra security at its campuses.

Even so, campuses are difficult to secure, administrators and law-enforcement officials said, especially at the beginning and end of the school day, when hundreds of teachers, students and parents enter and exit buildings. 

“There are always going to be vulnerable points of entry,” said Suffolk Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr.

School security became a pressing concern for Long Island educators and law enforcement, officials said, after two students at Columbine High School in Colorado fatally shot 12 students and a teacher in 1999, before killing themselves. Those concerns skyrocketed after the attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, and Toulon’s agency began providing security assessments to county schools. 

The sheriff’s office also teamed up with the Sandy Hook Foundation’s “Say Something" program to train 30,000 Suffolk students, staff and faculty to recognize warning signs — threats of violence, an obsession with guns — that someone may want to hurt themselves or others. 

“We teach students to report it to a trusted adult,” Toulon said. “Kids could be our first line of defense.” 

Jericho schools are also on the lookout for disturbing behavior, according to Superintendent Hank Grishman. Students who display such behavior can be referred to police or mental health professionals if necessary. 

“Coming out of COVID, we have a lot of concerns about mental health,” Grishman said. “We intervene to provide support to families.”

Several Long Island school districts, including Connetquot, Massapequa, Hauppauge and Miller Place, have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years to beef up security, including adding armed guards to school buildings. District officials declined to comment Friday.

Nassau police visited 300 schools Wednesday and Ryder said officers will continue campus patrols through the coming weeks. The police department also performed security assessments on most of the county’s 450-plus public school buildings, Ryder said.

Nassau and Suffolk school officials are linked to police by the RAVE app, which connects their phones to 911 dispatchers and gives the departments access to school cameras. Grishman and Johnson said they are fans of the technology. 

“Anything that puts you into contact with the police immediately and allows them to recognize the seriousness of the situation is welcomed,” Johnson said. 

Suffolk school districts also participate in the SHARE initiative — Sharing to Help Access Remote Entry — that connects cameras to the police department’s Real Time Crime Center. Police can also open and lock doors through the system.

Many Long Island districts, Johnson said, use metal detectors to screen for weapons on campus. Most schools now have just a single entry, he said, and vestibules have been rebuilt so an intruder would need to pass through a second locked checkpoint before gaining access to the building. 

“It may not stop an intruder,” Johnson said, “but it gives schools time to prepare. … I’m not sure what can be done to guarantee the safety of children in school."

With Robert Brodsky

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