As the Seaford and Wantagh school districts consider safety committee input and recommendations in response to the Parkland, Fla., school shootings, the nearby Massapequa Board of Education voted last month to hire armed security guards.
The Massapequa School District uses the same security consultant as the Seaford district — Oakdale-based Covert Investigations. Seaford schools retained Covert in April.
Seaford’s superintendent, Dr. Adele Pecora, was expected to give a report from the district’s newly established Security Guard Staffing Committee at the Board of Education’s next meeting on Wednesday, after the Herald went to press.
Massapequa is the first district in Nassau County, and only the fifth district on Long Island, to hire armed guards to staff its schools in response to numerous school shootings across the country. The others are Miller Place, Mount Sinai, Montauk and Hauppauge.
The Massapequa School District released the following statement: “At the June 21 Board of Education meeting, the Massapequa School District voted 3-1 to hire armed security guards. The district has not yet hired a company to provide this service, and details as to how the guards will be used and located are still being developed. However, the district hopes to have a contract finalized to secure armed guards in place for the start of the 2018-19 school year.”
Many parents with children in Seaford and Wantagh schools voiced concerns immediately after the Parkland shooting in February. Many said they favored arming school security guards, while others were vehemently opposed to it. The Wantagh School superintendent, John McNamara, held parent forums in April to discuss the issue.
Seaford resident Chris Carini, who has a son in elementary school and a daughter going into middle school, is a member of the Seaford Security Guard Staffing Committee. While he said he could not discuss the committee’s work, he did note, “Armed retired police officers are necessary in the world we now live in. We must change to the current threats we face. Many public venues and buildings are hardening their areas against these threats. Our children deserve the same protection. I will continue to push for what is necessary to protect my children.”
Don Haines, of Wantagh, a retired police officer, has four children who will all attend Wantagh Elementary School in September. He was vocal at Wantagh school board meetings after the Parkland shooting and attended the superintendent’s parent safety forum. “I’m glad to see local schools taking steps in the right direction as far school security is concerned,” he said. “I’m happy for Massapequa and am anxious to hear results from the security forums held in Wantagh.”
Not all Massapequa parents, however, favor hiring armed security guards. A petition was started online at change.org in late June, and as of July 16, 119 people who were opposed to hiring armed guards in the district had signed it.
The petition, titled “Mental Health Services, Not Just Armed Guards at Massapequa Schools,” reads, “We the undersigned are against using armed security in or at our schools without a complete plan and additional mental health support services. Arming guards is a last resort after every other option has been exhausted. We want to proactively address the underlying causes, rather than react to the results, by adding more mental health professionals in all of our schools. Armed security is not included in the budget for the 2018-19 school year and should not be reallocated from any of the other agreed upon budget lines.”
It continues, “The new security committee only met for the first time on May 30, 2018. They barely had time for introductions. There are many discussions to be had and options to be explored, such as but not limited to, added mental health professionals, substance sniffing dogs, aggressive anti-bullying programs, more supervision on the playground, safe rooms, automatic locking doors and increased support staff.”
Massapequa school officials did not comment on the petition.
The motion to hire armed guards in Massapequa was made by Board of Education Trustee Maryanne Fisher, at her last board meeting, as she did not run for re-election in May. It was seconded by Gary Baldinger, who was then board secretary and is now vice president. Trustee Timothy Taylor, who was re-elected board president in July, voted yes; Trustee Joseph LaBella, who also left the board after the meeting, voted no; and Trustee Brian Butler was absent.
Jamie Bogenshutz, a social worker and the executive director of YES Community Counseling Center in Massapequa, said she was confident that the public safety officers already hired by Massapequa schools are well trained and competent.
“While I can understand on some levels where the fear comes from, certainly it is a very sad day in any community where this becomes an option for people to consider,” she said of hiring armed guards. “The safety protocols put into place in every [Massapequa school] building are exemplary. Equally important is the strong relationship the district maintains with our police force.”