In an unanimous decision, the South Huntington school district has voted to place armed guards at the exterior of all school buildings. NewsdayTV's Cecilia Dowd reports. Credit: Newsday/James Carbone; AP; South Huntington School District BOE

Armed guards will be stationed outside all South Huntington school buildings by the end of the month, one of several Long Island districts making that choice as school shootings continue to be a terrifying national trend.

The South Huntington school board voted unanimously Wednesday night to implement the new security measure. The guards will not be inside school buildings during the instructional day, unless there is an emergency like an armed threat that requires their assistance, according to the district.

"While we understand the gravity and importance of this decision, please know that this was not made lightly and our main goal as a district and Board of Education is to ensure the safety and security of all," South Huntington Superintendent Vito D’Elia said in a letter to the community. "Given the recent events that have plagued our nation with regards to gun violence in schools, we felt this added measure was a necessary step.”

The district includes seven schools, made up of about 5,800 students. The guards would patrol two elementary schools from grades K through 2 at Oakwood and Countrywood Primary schools, two Intermediate Schools, Birchwood and Maplewood, for grades 3 through 5, Silas Wood Sixth Grade Center, Stimson Middle School for grades 7 and 8 and Walt Whitman High School.


  • The South Huntington school board unanimously voted Wednesday night to hire armed guards, one of several Long Island district now considering or hiring armed security.
  • The district will pay $750,000 to Melville-based Upfront Security, to have armed guards outside each of the district’s seven schools and district office.
  • The guards will start next month and will be made up of former law enforcement officers.

Armed security guards will also be utilized at select night and weekend events and activities, outside of normal school hours, D'Elia said in a letter to parents.

LI school districts exploring armed security

Several Long Island school 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.

There is no exact time for when the Huntington's armed security may start, but D'Elia told the community that "armed guards will begin monitoring our school buildings in the near future." 

In an interview, D’Elia said the district approved a $750,000 contract with Melville-based Upfront Security Associates, who were approved and vetted as the lowest bidder. The firm provides armed corporate and special event security, its website says.

D’Elia said the firm has worked at some private schools and will only employ active or former law enforcement personnel for the district. He said it specialized in active shooter training.

The district has not said how many guards will be hired, except noting that at least one guard will be stationed outside every building with students, including the district office. Multiple guards will be stationed outside Walt Whitman High, D'Elia said. 

“This is an enhancement of many things we’ve done,” D’Elia said. “We looked at response times and there’s no way to guarantee someone will be there in seconds. We looked at what could give staff and students a chance to combat an active shooter."

South Huntington School District Superintendent Dr. Vito D’Elia announced that the...

South Huntington School District Superintendent Dr. Vito D’Elia announced that the district will be hiring armed guards to be stationed outside school buildings. Credit: James Carbone

The armed guards will supplement additional security provided by the district and Suffolk County police, D’Elia said. He said the district was spurred to consider armed guards following the shooting that killed 19 students and two teachers last May at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

“When you look at what happened in Texas, that’s what really got us thinking,” D’Elia said. “You see innocent lives and a senseless tragedy there and we looked at what can we do better overall for security measures in South Huntington.”

Parents, teachers have mixed reactions

South Huntington Teachers Association President Dennis Callahan questioned the hiring of armed guards at the school board meeting Wednesday night. 

He noted that armed guards were present at shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, and in Parkland, Florida, as well as the Uvalde school police who responded last year but who were unable to stop a mass shooting of students.

 "We are asking schools to solve a problem that society has not yet found a solution to," Callahan said. "What’s going to make South Huntington different, when it didn’t help there?"

South Huntington school officials expressed confidence in the former NYPD, Nassau and Suffolk police officers that would be hired as armed guards.

"If this event ever happens in South Huntington, I need confidence we will do what we need to do to neutralize the threat," D'Elia said. "Just because someone didn’t do what they were supposed to do, does that mean we should never try it because it didn’t work?"

Several parents interviewed at Oakwood Primary Center in Huntington Station said Thursday afternoon that they were in favor of adding armed guards if it meant keeping their kids safe.

"You want your children to feel safe and don’t want one of those calls that something happened," Beverly Calderon said. "You want that feeling of security when you’re at work or home. You don’t want that call if there’s something going on or a threat, you want someone there to protect your kids."

Gladwin Geevarghese said every school should have security and he supports armed guards if they are properly trained.

"The concern for parents is, are my kids safe as soon as they’re out of our sight?" he said. "A school with armed security eases that mindset. I think it’s a great step for every school to have, especially as gun laws are lifted."

Looking for a quick response

Much like South Huntington, Montauk schools were prompted to act to reduce response times in the wake of the 2018 Parkland shooting.

The Montauk district employs four armed security personnel, and the school has one officer serving a day, Superintendent Jack Perna said. They are all retired police officers, and the cost to the district is $80,000 a year. There’s been no incident requiring an armed guard at the school, he said.

The armed guards patrol inside and outside throughout the day, Perna said. “I am very happy that we have someone here and I think most of Montauk also appreciates them," Perna said. 

Tuckahoe Superintendent Leonard Skuggevik said the district employs retired school resource officers from the Southampton Police Department. The district serves pre-K through grade 8, all in one building. “It is a perfect opportunity to provide added security using individuals our school and community already have confidence in,” Skuggevik said.

Suffolk police were not available to comment.

Suffolk County Sheriff Errol D. Toulon Jr. said that while his department helps schools with risk assessments, it does not make recommendations on whether to have armed or unarmed guards.

He noted that protecting schools can be difficult, if only because so many people enter and leave the building at the same time. If a school district wants armed guards, Toulon said he suggests that the person be properly trained and requalified recently.

The sheriff also said schools need to coordinate their use of armed personnel with the local police, so the police know who they are and what uniform they wear, so if an incident occurs, police won’t mistake the guard for the perpetrator. 

D'Elia said the contract would be absorbed into security funds for the remaining school year and added to next year's budget. He did not anticipate additional costs to taxpayers beyond the state's 2% tax cap. 

The district voted to make an exception to its policy of not allowing weapons on school grounds so it could contract out for the armed security.

There have been numerous social media threats or calls to district schools, including at least three threats since December. There have been two threats since Dec. 18 at Walt Whitman, with the latest originating last week as a voicemail from someone in Texas. A Stimson student also made a threat on the social networking app Snapchat this week. None of the threats were deemed credible.

In the past year, South Huntington schools have approved several new security measures, including plans to add security vestibules at all buildings and the August hiring of a director of security trained in active shooter incidents. The district is also increasing the number of surveillance cameras at all buildings, officials said.

The board also plans to add a grant-funded security booth this summer at Walt Whitman High School. The district is also partnering with Northwell Health for mental health referrals.

Districts choose armed security after shootings

Ken Trump, the president of Ohio-based consulting firm National School Safety and Security Services, said calls for armed school security spike after major incidents such as the shootings in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, and Uvalde. And while the number of schools using them has increased ever since Columbine, he still believes the majority of school districts do not use armed security — ”but it’s not uncommon.”

He said the effectiveness of armed officers is a “mixed bag.” These guards have removed numerous guns from school grounds, but there have also been times when they waited long periods before even entering a scene, he said.

Their greatest use may be simply as a deterrent and a prevention measure, Trump said.

“A major way that schools find out about a dangerous kid is that another child comes forward and tells an adult,” he said. “(These guards) build relationships with the students.”

With Cecilia Dowd

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