School officials in Longwood and Huntington told residents Thursday that they had not been consulted in advance about a state program to send state troopers into their schools and said they needed to know more before moving forward.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Wednesday he was dispatching state troopers to 10 schools in Suffolk County with “the highest incidents of gang-related activity.” Officials in some of the districts said they welcomed the move.
But in letters to parents and district residents, the Longwood and Huntington officials disputed Cuomo’s assessment and sought to reassure parents about the safety of their schools.
After Cuomo announced the plan — during an appearance at Central Islip High School — Huntington Superintendent Jim Polansky and Huntington High School Principal Brenden P. Cusack wrote they were informed about the plan from a state press release and media inquiries.
“We were shocked to learn in this manner that Huntington High School was on the list of ten,” they wrote.
They said state officials later that day offered a “thorough apology.”
“To put it bluntly, we are deeply disappointed in the manner in which this initiative has been presented overall. It is not something that can or should simply be imposed on any school in a vacuum,” they wrote. “In brief, yesterday’s press conference served primarily to mischaracterize and, frankly, offend all members of the school community.”
Polansky also said he wanted more details.
“To determine if there would be even a remote educational benefit, I would need very specific information. If they are so interested in simply adding police resources, why not provide more funding to the Suffolk County Police Department so that they can augment their educational outreach in schools across Long Island?”
Longwood Superintendent Michael Lonergan wrote on the district’s website that he “had NO prior knowledge of the formation of the task force or the details on how the district was chosen.”
He added, “our schools do not have gangs roaming the hallways or threatening our school community,” blaming media outlets for the portrayal.
Cuomo Wednesday called the 10 schools the “breeding ground” for MS-13, a violent gang blamed for 17 slayings in Suffolk County since the beginning of 2016.
Cuomo administration officials said later the schools had been recommended by law-enforcement agencies. They would not elaborate on the selection process Thursday.
In a statement, though, Cuomo’s spokeswoman said all the districts were invited to the news conference.
“We are surprised that some officials would not welcome additional resources to stop the scourge of MS-13. This initiative does not target schools, it protects children and we will continue to work with all partners to combat this senseless violence,” the spokeswoman, Abbey Fashouer, wrote.
The state would be working with Suffolk Police, superintendents and principals on implementing the program in the coming days, according to the governor’s office.
Lonergan, in a telephone interview, said Longwood had been working “for decades to prevent any type of gang activity or any other at-risk behavior. And we’ve been pretty darn successful.”
He added, “We do not have a gang presence at our high school or junior high, though I do recognize at-risk populations and vulnerabilities in the community at-large.”
He said he would have to learn more about the governor’s plan before accepting troopers at the school.
“The way the community understands, it is armed state troopers in the building. That would not be welcome at all, because it’s not necessary,” he said.