With the Newtown massacre’s enduring scar painfully evident, Katonah-Lewisboro officials searched last week for school-security solutions while anxious parents beseeched them to find those answers, and quickly please.
While no firm decisions were made at a packed school board meeting Thursday, official discussion included doing a security audit now, followed by a special committee’s review of the findings before submitting formal safety proposals to the board. A parade of parents—some miffed at the board for taking up the safety issue only after discussing such things as the winter break and tennis courts—made clear Sandy Hook’s hold on their thoughts and emotions.
“The topics that came before this . . . are completely irrelevant in my mind,” said one mother, Pamela Stewart of Katonah.
“I have a son at Increase Miller,” she began. “He’s 6.” But the mention of his age, the same as so many Newtown victims, she stopped, momentarily unable to speak. When Stewart did resume, emotion choking her speech, she said, “I’m sorry. This is just so important, and this dialogue—and it is emotional—it’s absolutely crucial that we keep talking. We must keep talking and we must find solutions.”
Earlier, as the board sought those solutions, Trustee Marjorie Schiff proposed a security audit and School Superintendent Paul Kreutzer agreed, saying, “Let’s get the professionals in here” to review the district’s safety protocols and everyone’s compliance with them.”
After the audit, Trustee Peter Breslin suggested, the board would tap local expertise to create a safety committee to review the security-audit findings. ““We have people who can do everything around here. . . . This is the group that takes that [audit] in and makes recommendations,” he said.
Alice Cronin, assistant superintendent for instruction, worried not about expertise but headcount. She questioned whether the district had manpower sufficient to take on the challenge. “We don’t have that many extra bodies . . . to implement any new kind of anything.” After meeting such mandates as the Annual Professional Performance Review and Response to Intervention—initiatives most often shorthanded to APPR and RTI—she said, “We’re up to here with every . . . letter in the book.”
Breslin asked, “If you don’t have a committee, who does it fall to? The board or the administration. Well, we don’t have the expertise, [and] the administration’s got enough to do.” While knowing a committee was not the best solution, Breslin said, he proposed one simply to have “somebody, some group, focused on this very important issue.”
Trustee Peter Treyz aimed higher in seeking a focus. Noting that Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. was scheduled to deliver the recommendations of his gun panel to the president on Tuesday, Treyz suggested that the board “start at the top and work down in its quest for gun-safety solutions.”
Board President Mark Lipton supported the call for a professional review of district security. “I like the idea of getting the audit now and seeing where we are,” he said. “A good, professional auditing company ought to come with a next step for us.”
While the national debate over school safety has included any number of proposals for countervailing firepower—everything from armed teachers to police officers in the halls to private guards with guns at the door—there was little call for more hardware at Thursday’s meeting.
Trustee Janet Harckham said a desired “warm and secure environment . . . cannot be guaranteed by the presence of more guns” while Trustee Stephanie Tobin said they were “not the way to respond to a situation like this.”
The Katonah mother, Pamela Stewart, also opposed them, saying, “I personally would not feel more secure with more guns. I don’t think you combat this gun problem with more guns. That wouldn’t make me feel safer.”
But a retired New York City detective asked whether a gun in the right hands might have saved lives at Sandy Hook, where 26 people and the killer died in the nation’s second deadliest school shooting ever after the Virginia Tech massacre of 32 in 2007.
Another law enforcement professional, a lieutenant in the Yonkers Police Department, said his “cop’s eye” told him that current security protocols “are not being followed all of the time.”
And he warned against reliance on student surveys as a predictor of future behavior. Believing “that you’re going to be able to identify [Newtown shooter] Adam Lanza coming back to his elementary school—10 years after, 15 years after he graduated—and anticipate that kind of behavior with a survey is dangerously naïve,” he said.
Lisa Valdez, co-president of the Meadow Pond PTA, said, “I can appreciate the need for committees, and the need to discuss things. But there are things we can do in the here and now. . . . We can lock the doors now. Do we need to get approval, or can we just do this?”