Smithtown Central is the latest Long Island school district to...

Smithtown Central is the latest Long Island school district to add armed guards on the perimeter of district schools. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Smithtown Central School District announced Wednesday it plans to hire armed guards to be stationed outside its schools, joining a growing number of Long Island districts that intend to or have deployed armed security.

While the district has enhanced its security measures, “we have come to the stark realization that there is more we can do to better protect the members of this school community,” according to a letter to the community signed by district Superintendent Mark Secaur, school board president Matthew Gribbin and the rest of the board members.

The district did not say how many armed guards it plans to deploy or when they would begin, but noted they will be added to “the exterior perimeter of each of our schools.”

The North Shore district, the sixth largest on the Island with more than 8,000 students, has 12 schools:  seven elementary schools, three middle schools and two high schools.

The district’s announcement came the day after a budget workshop where a general fund budget overview was presented, including a proposal for armed security at about $850,000 in the projected expenditure budget for 2023-24.

At the workshop, Gribbin cited the shooting Monday night at Michigan State University where three students were killed.

“The sad reality in society today is that we have seen these rates of horrific, tragic incidents increase rapidly across the country over the past several years, most recently being last night at Michigan State,” he said Tuesday. “This is why we made the decision to add armed security to our present security detail. Please know that this decision was not taken lightly.”

The use of armed guards in schools has been controversial as educators and parents debate whether it's effective in preventing school shootings and if resources would be better spent on other priorities, such as boosting mental health programs.

Alison Bennett, the mother of a second-grader at St. James Elementary School, said she believes such a measure is needed.

“It’s so unfortunate. But at this time, it’s necessary,” she said. “It’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.”

Officials at the Smithtown Teachers' Association did not respond to a request for comment.

School officials wrote that the new measure will strengthen the district’s ability to respond during a crisis and deter those who seek to do harm. They also noted the guards will not be posted within school buildings and said their added presence will not interfere with day-to-day activities.

Several Island districts use armed security, including Montauk, Tuckahoe and West Babylon. School districts such as Connetquot, Massapequa, Hauppauge and Miller Place have either hired or explored hiring armed security, Newsday previously reported. The South Huntington school board voted to hire armed guards in January.

South Huntington Superintendent Vito D’Elia said last month that his district was spurred by the shooting that killed 19 students and two teachers last May at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

In Smithtown, the district has begun the process of identifying security firms, and the guards will be required to undergo training every year and will need to “requalify through periodic performance based assessments,” the letter said.

After the board approves the security firm, the guards will familiarize themselves with the school facilities and coordinate efforts with the Suffolk County Police Department, the district said.

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