School leaders across Long Island scrambled to assure parents and students that there were no imminent threats in their communities, according to police, and that counselors were available to talk to anyone anxious over the massacre Tuesday at a Texas elementary school.
In Sayville, authorities announced that additional security staff would be present in the district. In Hempstead, school officials met with local police and announced they would fine-tune the district's security plan in light of the shootings in the town of Uvalde.
"Everyone understands these incidents can happen anywhere, and we have to be prepared," said LaMont Johnson, a Hempstead school board trustee and former police officer.
Elsewhere, school administrators sent messages to local families to let them know that they shared in the general sense of sorrow, and in some cases, to pass along safety tips.
Westbury's superintendent, Tahira DuPree Chase, said the district would hold a webinar Thursday night as an opportunity for parents to meet with a psychotherapist and discuss ways to talk with children about such tragedies.
Chase, along with a board trustee, Michelle Wilson, visited district schools Wednesday, checking on students and staff.
"Today I wanted to check the pulse of not only my students, but also my staff — this is very scary for staff," Chase said.
On Tuesday, a gunman stormed into Robb Elementary School in Uvalde and killed 19 children and two teachers. Law enforcement officers killed the shooter, identified as a local 18-year-old who had shot and wounded his grandmother shortly before the onslaught.
In the Plainview-Old Bethpage district beginning Tuesday night, officials reminded the community of safety measures put in place in the school system over the past six years. They include secured vestibules, security guards, a swipe system for entry, and lanyards for high school students that identify who should be on campus, said Superintendent Mary O’Meara.
“We have 450 cameras. We have a command center that is monitored by a security guard all day long. Our students and our families know our security processes,” she said. “Our school district fortunately has the resources and has made school safety a priority."
Like many local superintendents, Hank Grishman of Jericho emailed parents Tuesday night, expressing sadness over the "horrific, senseless" murders. Grishman added that his district and others had been assured by Nassau police that there was no imminent threat in the county — an assurance similar to one voiced in Suffolk County.
Grishman, in a phone interview, added that police patrol cars had been on school campuses Wednesday. "Obviously, there's a great deal of comfort in that," he said.
In the Malverne district, Superintendent Lorna Lewis posted a message of reassurance for local families. She noted that the frustration she felt was not unlike that experienced after the killings at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, as well as the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012.
"As a superintendent, I'm getting tired of sending those letters out," Lewis said. "I think it's time for Congress and legislators to do something about it."
Esther Hernandez-Kramer, a Texas native who teaches Global History at Farmingdale High School, said “I was devastated like everybody else. It hurts my heart.”
Hernandez-Kramer said she’s worried for the safety of students and teachers like her, her husband who works at the same school, and her niece who teaches in Texas. She’s also fearful for her brother, who works as a school resource officer in a Houston suburb.
“I’m so angry that we are on the front line when we should be worried about how we're teaching these children, but we have to be prepared to put ourselves in front of a gunman to protect them,” she said. “Is this the country we want? We didn't sign up for this.”
Hernandez-Kramer said her district has done a lot to keep people safe, but she didn’t feel safe in school or other public spaces.
“Nobody is safe,” she said. “We're not safe in schools. We're not safe at concerts. We are not safe in movie theaters. We are not safe in nightclubs. We are not safe.”
Lihong Cheng, a math teacher at Glen Cove High School, said he’s outraged and wants to see real change. “We send too many prayers, too many thoughts and no actions,” he said.
Frustration over the lack of national action in curbing gun violence was underlined Wednesday in a joint statement issued by Phyllis Harrington and Charles Dedrick, president and executive director, respectively, of the New York State Council of School Superintendents. Harrington serves as Oceanside's superintendent.
"When will we as a nation say never again to children going off to school, not to come home again?" the statement began. "Now has to be the time. We urge our nation's leaders to come together and enact common sense measures supported by the majority of Americans that will help put an end to the horrific murders we are witnessing."
Robert Lowry, a deputy director at the Albany-based council, said one such measure could be stronger cooperation between states in sharing information on gun purchases by people with criminal backgrounds.
The joint statement cited national figures showing there have been 27 school shootings in 2022 alone.
"That is 27 school shootings too many," the state council leaders said.
With Craig Schneider, Joie Tyrrell and Dandan Zou