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West Hempstead Parent Asks School Officials to Beef Up Security

District assessing its security in wake of Friday's school shooting in Newtown, CT.

"Security could be much better in all schools," one mother of four told West Hempstead School District officials Tuesday as she, like many parents, reacted to the horrific mass shooting that claimed the lives of 20 first graders and six staff at a Connecticut school.

Caitlin Close pointed out that although visitors to West Hempstead High School and Middle School must pass through professional security guards, George Washington Elementary School is manned only by aides.

"I don't feel secure with them sitting there," she stated at the Dec. 18 Board of Education meeting. "Our security should not be a 70-year-old woman."

Although there is a security camera outside GW, which allows staff inside the main office to see who is approaching the entrance, Close said that the aides who are monitoring the doors do not have access to the video. She asked school officials to take an in-depth look at its security system.

Lori Finkelstein, a mother of three, asked school officials if they would consider bringing in an outside firm to access its security. 

Schools Superintendent John Hogan said he’s been in talks with fellow district administrators since Friday’s shooting to review their security measures. Hiring a consultant to perform a “security audit” is one idea that did come up.

 "We certainly understand we are not security experts," he added.

Each school principal reviewed their building's emergency management plan, and met with Hogan Monday to assess the district’s security together.

The review also included lock out, lock down and evacuation drills, door security, crisis communication, and an assessment of cameras currently installed and where more may be needed. (To resolve the camera situation in GW, Hogan said, the district may utilize the wifi it is currently installing to give the door monitor access via a laptop.)

Principals will be reviewing the plans with staff, and administrators will speak about security at upcoming PTA and PTSA meetings.

Reading a statement he released Saturday, Hogan offered his condolences to Newtown, and reacted to the tragedy as both a father and a school leader, stating:

"As your superintendent, I believe that each of your children are my children, and I want them to be safe. I know that all the administrators and teachers in West Hempstead feel exactly the same way."

Central administrators have been fielding parents' questions this week in person and via phone calls and emails. Teachers have been answering students’ questions, with only a few needed to speak with school psychologists and counselors.

“Students have been amazingly resilient and our school days have been normal ones," Hogan said. "The love they have been shown at home, the way in which parents have handled this, speaks volumes about the people here in West Hempstead.”

Hogan said it’s “naïve and foolish” to think a tragedy like what happened in Newtown could not happen here.

“We will continue to do our best to prepare for any emergency situation that could arise," he said, but added, "I don't know how, truthfully, you prepare for a deranged individual who has an assault weapon in their hands.

“I can't imagine why anybody would need … an assault weapon if they are not in the Marine Corps, a Navy Seal, or defending our country,” he added. “It's just something I can't wrap my head around."

Hogan also urged local families not to allow the recent tragedy to take away their joy, adding, “There still must be joy in our lives."

Thomas Nathan December 20, 2012 at 03:46 PM
@Michelle Just to let you know I pay for those pictures and the book and holiday fairs are just a waste of money and a fundraiser for the PTA. But again the aides are going to do nothing to prevent a problem. So what an ID is dropped off at a desk that will do nothing to prevent someone whose goal is to commit a crime in a school. In the end we need to fix the probelm correctly. We cant fool ourselves that these bandaid approaches do anything to help address issue.
Michelle Somma Graci December 20, 2012 at 04:17 PM
You do not pay for the people who run those programs. The yearbook doesnt make itself, the bookfair doesnt set up on its own. A huge amount of work goes into that stuff done by volunteers. The PTA is not the problem in our schools. I cant even believe an issue about a maniac with a gun has come to throwing out the PTA. Lets just fire all the aides and leave the door wide open for anyone. They will get in if they want so whats the point trying to discourage them. Sorry, not the way I look at things.
Thomas Nathan December 20, 2012 at 04:39 PM
@Michelle The one problem you dont seem to understand is I know how these programs work. The school photographers pay a kickback to take pictures at the school. The book fairs and holiday fairs are fundraisers for the PTA. But getting back to the issue of protecting the children. All people entering the school need to be screened. That includes the PTA moms. They should all go through a metal detector. Again having an aide there does not fix any problem. It may make you think things are better but in reality does nothing. Having a metal detector with an armed guard WILL solve the problem.
WHMomOfFour December 20, 2012 at 05:49 PM
Having a metal detector with an armed guard ?? I agree with Michelle. There has to be more done to account for who is in the building, interacting with our children. PTA moms, certainly do not "do nothing" - like mIchelle said if it weren't for the PTA moms, things at school would not happen. Yes they receive "kickbacks", which goes towards programs and things FOR THE KIDS !! That is just an ignorant statement, considering you claim to know how the PTA works. I am a mother of four in WHUFSD in three different schools. A metal detector does not solve any problems. This "nutjob" shattered the window and entered the school. So what if there was a metal detector?? I think if the person in the lobby as Michelle suggests could see the person for themselves, instead of being buzzed in by a third party sitting in an office -you can tell a lot about people, their mood, demeanor - just by looking them in the face. Granted not all the time, but I would personally like the aide or guard who is allowing someone to enter, to look them in the face themselves. Guards/Aides should not be 20-30 feet away from the door they are monitoring. There are too many places a person can go if they are not questioned upon arrival. We must start small. Unfortunately, this is something that will have to grow over time.
Michelle Somma Graci December 20, 2012 at 05:50 PM
I am not saying it wouldnt solve having a maniac with a gun enter the school. Read above where I said it is not realisticly going to happen in our districts fututre. I am just trying to come up with some other suggestions. I agree all people should be screened. My issue with the aide is again , that they be situated someplace *before the visitors even get inside the building. If that can be easily accomplished by moving their desk to an outer vestibule then why not be open to that suggestion? I will leave that to the board when they do their evaluations. I am also aware that those programs the PTA runs, while also being wonderful for the children, are fundraisers, the money raised goes to providing more programs, shows, and activites for the kids. In my mind that is not a bad thing to provide to our children. Everything is run by volunteers, completely optional and gives the kids those extras that are not affordable in the budget. A school that doesnt welcome what the PTA provides is really sad.

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