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CNY officials discuss school safety in the wake of Florida shootings

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Homer Village Police Ptl. Christopher Parrow gives a presentation on active shooter training on Saturday at St. Margaret Church in Homer.

School Resource Officer Rob Reyngoudt hopes that by reaching out to ostracized kids, officers like him can offer a different path to those who may otherwise turn into school shooters.

The Cortland City School District School Resource Officer and other police officials are encouraging districts to re-evaluate their existing protocols to see what more they can do to bolster safety in light of the Feb. 14 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

And students are also feeling the tension, concerned the next shooting may be closer to home.

“I’m a little nervous,” said Jaime Andres-Lopez. a junior at Homer High School. He referred to threats he heard of in Delaware and Broome counties, saying it’s not unthinkable one could happen here.

And Cortland High School sophomore Caroline Tighe wishes her school would talk more about what to do if there was an active shooter.

“I feel like we need better preparedness,” she said. “Make sure everyone knows how to react in a situation like that, how to prevent and stop it.”

Since last year, New York state has mandated that public schools conduct lockdown drills four times a year, twice before December and twice after, said Reyngoudt.
And teachers convey the information in these drills. Districts rely on their staff members and teachers to attend active shooter drills and pass down that knowledge to students in age appropriate ways, area superintendents said.

At DeRuyter, Superintendent Chuck Walters is proud of the district’s commitment to its lockdown drills, which are performed regularly.

Classrooms and spaces like the cafeteria all have their own protocols, which the teachers enforce. The shades are drawn on all doors and everyone must remain silent for the duration of the drill, Walters said.

“Basically, if I’m in position searching, in theory, I’m not going to hear anything,” he said.

In Homer too there are lockdown and evacuation drills, said Superintendent Nancy Ruscio.

There is also an upcoming active shooter drill for faculty at the Superintendents Conference Day in March, she said.

In addition, the district has school resource officers who can convey information to students about what to do in the event of an active shooter, she said.

Across districts, teachers and faculty are the go-between in these training sessions, rather than law enforcement delivering them directly to students.

Capt. Rob Derksen with the Cortland County Sheriff’s Department holds about six active shooter training sessions monthly for workplaces and community members and he said he has never been asked to give active shooter training directly to students.

Any decision to deliver active shooter training directly to students would have to be made with parents’ input, Walters said. Homer school district is open to the idea of such training, Ruscio said.

It could have its benefits, said Homer Police Chief Robert Pitman, who recalled his days of going to school and learning lessons from the fire department about how to “Stop, drop and roll,” in the event of a fire.

However, he’s also ambivalent about it.

“These kids we’re training today, they could be the active shooter tomorrow,” he said.

According to news reports, the Florida gunman who opened fire on students on Valentines Day, was 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, a student of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who had been expelled for disciplinary reasons. Seventeen students and staff were killed and 14 others injured in the rampage, according to news reports.

Cruz had come to the attention of classmates and teachers for his threatening behavior and had also reportedly made statements on social media about becoming a school shooter, according to reports.

The Homer Police Department takes any threat seriously and will investigate any that come to its attention, Pitman said.

The department also does training in all the district buildings twice yearly so the officers are familiar with the layout of each building, Sgt. Roland Eckard said.
Officers also have the floorplans for each school in the district, Pitman said.

If there was to be a report of an active shooter, however, any on-duty police officer from area police agencies would be called to respond, not just ones from Homer.
The directive now is to have officers enter the building to stop the shooting, Pitman said. They don’t wait for backup.

“You’re there to stop the threat,” Pitman said.

The Homer Police Department put on an active shooter training training at St. Margaret’s Church in Homer on Saturday, something Pitman plans to do more often. It was open to community members and he said a few high school-age kids showed up.

“It’s an awareness course, what to do,” Pitman said. “Basically don’t stand there and get yourself shot, move, get out if you can safely get out.”

Pitman urges all districts to constantly evaluate their security plans with an eye toward correcting any weaknesses. And, unfortunately, he said, after each event, there is something to be learned about how to do things differently.

Reyngoudt said the Cortland district will be reviewing its active shooter plan next week.

Officers like him, placed in schools, play a critical role, he says: Prevention. Students can come to them and show him Snapchat pictures they are concerned about, as happened recently in the wake of the Florida shooting, or he can identify resources for ostracized kids.

“That’s the beauty of having a properly selected officer working in a school building relationships with students and staff and students’ parents, the community as a whole,” Reyngoudt said.

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