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As pressure grows, more Long Island educators seek safety solutions

Miller Place schools hold a public meeting to

Miller Place schools hold a public meeting to allow the community to voice its concerns about the decision to hire four armed guards in the school district. The guards are retired NYPD cops, and they have been assigned to each of the district's four campuses, as a growing number of LI school districts tighten security in the wake of the Florida school killings.  Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

Long Island educators continue to struggle in their efforts aimed at making schools safer and calming the nerves of students, parents and faculty still jittery after the deadly Valentine’s Day shootings in Florida.

Gun safety was on the minds of the more than 200 parents, students, faculty and community members who turned out for the Miller Place school board’s first meeting since they decided Sunday, 4-1, to hire retired NYPD officers and arm them with handguns.

Patrick O’Hanlon, 58, commended board member Noelle Dunlop for dissenting against arming guards because, he said, the shooter would have the upper hand regardless.

“They’re coming in at their timing and their discretion,” Hanlon said, of potential active shooters. “You’re not going to stop it.”

But Peter Connelli, 48, who has two children in the school system, said he backed the board’s move.

“I would have made the same decision,” he said.

Earlier, Dunlop told Newsday the district already had strong security facilities in place, including protected vestibules at the entrance of every school. “Some people don’t believe there should be armed guards on school grounds,” Dunlop said. “It makes some people uncomfortable.”

The board’s president Johanna Testa said Tuesday in an interview with Newsday that she and most of her colleagues agreed that the rising public fears about a mass shooter called for swift and dramatic action.

“Emotions were running high, people were very anxious, nervous, upset,” Testa said, adding that hiring the four retired cops was meant to calm emotions and demonstrate the board’s commitment to student security. The retired officers began their assignment Monday.

Miller Place is the first Long Island district to publicly acknowledge the posting of armed security personnel since the Feb. 14 shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 17 students and teachers but other local systems are moving in that direction.

Center Moriches Superintendent Russell Stewart has proposed hiring two armed guards. Gordon Brosdal, the schools chief in Mount Sinai, said Tuesday that his district is reviewing the addition of armed guards there.

Other Long Island school district officials have stopped short of hiring armed security, instead choosing to enhance safety measures already in place or adding new ones.

In Commack, district leaders posted a message alerting the school district of plans to install “specialized door knobs on classroom doors that can be locked from inside of a classroom.”

Superintendent Donald James, in a letter posted to the district website, said security knobs have already been installed in “every elementary school, with imminent plans to install them in our middle and high schools.

School officials in Seaford said they have hired a security consulting firm “to conduct a school safety and security audit,” according to a message on its website. The South Huntington school district posted a message on its website saying it is “caucusing” with Suffolk police officers in the Second Precinct to consider ideas like license scanners and active-shooter training for faculty.

Two-way contact with all classrooms is among the security measures implemented in the Valley Stream 13 School District, according to a message posted in its website.

With Zachary R. Dowdy

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