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Miller Place schools hire 4 ex-NYPD cops as armed guards

Miller Place High School seen on Tuesday, Feb.

Miller Place High School seen on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018. Four armed guards, all retired NYPD cops, 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

This story was reported by Scott Eidler, John Hildebrand and Joie Tyrrell. It was written by Hildebrand.

Miller Place school authorities confirmed Tuesday they have assigned armed personnel to each of the district’s four schools, joining a growing list of Long Island school districts clamping down on campus security.

Four armed guards, all retired NYPD officers, took on their new duties Monday, joining 14 unarmed security staffers already employed by the 2,707-student district, local officials said. The new security guards have been assigned to each of the district’s four campuses: Miller Place High School, North Country Road Middle School, Laddie A. Decker Sound Beach School and Andrew Muller Primary School.

Miller Place school district officials described the additional staffing as a temporary pilot program. Several school districts across Long Island are considering adding armed security or other measures to enhance campus safety after the Feb. 14 school shootings in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 students and faculty.

Center Moriches school district Superintendent Russell Stewart said earlier this week his efforts at keeping students and faculty safe include the hiring of armed guards. He has proposed hiring two armed guards for district campuses — a plan floated before the Valentine’s Day Florida shooting but among a range of safety measures now on the table of Long Island educators.

On Tuesday, Mount Sinai Superintendent Gordon Brosdal said district officials are reviewing the idea of adding armed guards to district schools.

“They’re clamoring for it,” Brosdal said of his school community, ”and we’re entertaining the idea.”

Miller Place’s school board took the action in a 4-to-1 vote at a meeting on Sunday, officials said. At the same time, Superintendent Marianne Cartisano emailed about 3,500 local parents, teachers and other staffers, informing them the district was taking additional steps toward safeguarding schools.

Miller Place authorities emphasized that the new security guards, armed with pistols, would be assigned only to school vestibules, not to classrooms or hallways frequented by students.

Another board meeting has been scheduled for 8 p.m. Wednesday at the high school, where community residents will have a chance to voice their opinions, officials said.

Anxieties among Miller Place parents have soared since the Parkland shootings — creating a tense situation and spurring district leaders to look for quick and decisive action.

“Emotions were running high, people were very anxious, nervous, upset,” said Johanna Testa, now in her third year as president of Miller Place’s school board. “This was to calm emotions and let the community know we take security seriously.”

Educational leaders widely agree that any workable solution to school shootings has to be multipronged, and must include sensible limits on the availability of firearms, as well as expansion of psychological services for people whose emotional instability poses a potential danger for themselves and those around them.

Opinion in the community is divided on including armed security officers among the possible solutions.

Joe Leek, 42, who has a second-grader at the district’s Muller Primary School, said he initially opposed the idea until he discussed it with his wife, who works in another district that, he said, has armed guards.

“Now I feel comfortable with it,” Leek, a landscape manager, said.

Scott Mandia, who has two children attending local schools, is not sold yet. He noted that sheriff’s deputies assigned to protect the Parkland school were widely criticized for failing to enter the building as gunfire erupted.

“It certainly wasn’t effective there,” said Mandia, who teaches meteorology at Suffolk Community College.

In any case, a growing number of the 124 districts in Nassau and Suffolk counties are feeling the pressure to do something.

Stewart made his pitch for armed guards at Center Moriches schools at a Jan. 25 meeting of about 18 superintendents in the Brookhaven Cluster of Interdistrict Council of Superintendents.

In an interview Tuesday, Stewart said reducing the time an active shooter can roam a school corridor is the goal of bringing in armed security.

“The time will decrease with having an armed police officer in a building, versus waiting for outside help,” he said.

Brosdal, who attended the meeting where Stewart discussed his proposal, said the idea of armed security has support in his community.

“I’ve heard more in favor of armed guards than those against it,” Brosdal said in an interview Tuesday. Brosdal said the district has reached out to its insurance company for preliminary approval.

Elsewhere, other school leaders harbored doubts.

Longwood Superintendent Michael Lonergan said of hiring armed guards: “It really would be our last option, if it ever came to that. It’s a weapon in the building, which we don’t want to begin with.”

He said that the district would appreciate more state funding for school resource officers, or SROs. The district since at least 2004 has had two to three part-time armed officers from the Suffolk police department’s Sixth and Seventh precincts assigned to district buildings.

“Our students know these officers, our community knows these SRO officers,” Lonergan said, “and they know our students and they know our buildings.”

Jericho Superintendent Henry Grishman, a veteran Long Island schools chief and former president of the New York State Council of School Superintendents, said he did not support proposals to place armed guards outside schools.

“I do not see more guns on public school campuses as the answer to the security concerns that have arisen since the horrific incident in Parkland, Florida,” Grishman said Tuesday. “I think when somebody has an intent to enter a school building — and using past history, most cases the perpetrators have known the school building — they can gain entry around an armed security guard. In addition to that, an armed security guard with a pistol is no match for a military-grade rifle.”

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