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NEN parents call for armed guards during March 30 BOE budget hearing

Schools by: Chrissy Ruggeri, April 7, 2023

At the March 30 BOE meeting, residents of the NENUFSD spoke out in favor of armed guards on district campuses.

The Northport-East Northport (NEN) school district’s proposed budget for 2023-2024 includes $2,299,448 in security funding, an increase of 1.79% from last year. In five years, NEN will have spent over $11 million on security measures and contracts, if the proposed budget is approved in May.

As part of next school year’s budget, allocated funds will be used for several district-wide security improvements, including blue strobe light integration into elementary school lockdown systems; replacing equipment and upgrading software for visitor management; adding additional cameras to cover blind spots and new playground equipment; and purchasing computer hardware for camera system monitoring. Additionally, the budget will fund ongoing training and staff development, and contract services with Altaris Security Consulting. The completion of the Northport Middle School vestibule with a new enclosed lobby is also included in the planned capital projects.

The district’s remaining Smart Schools Bond funds, from the state, total about $500,000 and will be used to implement classroom “door hardening” and lockdown integration measures. Door hardening allows classroom doors to be secured quickly and easily from inside the classroom or other spaces in school buildings. Installing door swipes with entry cards for access into classrooms and offices may also be considered.

At the March 30 Board of Education meeting and preliminary public hearing on the proposed district budget, several residents spoke in favor of hiring armed guards as an additional security measure. The concerns came just days after a former student entered the Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee and fatally shot three children and three adults.

Lori-Ann Rodriguez was among a handful of NEN parents who voiced their concerns about current security protocols. “We just had another school shooting last week, again,” she said, during the public hearing. “That shooter had another target in mind, however, he was deterred because that location had armed security.”

Rodriguez noted that neighboring districts including Kings Park, Smithtown and South Huntington have armed security on their campuses and Northport-East Northport is “in the middle like sitting ducks.” She suggested that if a survey was done in the community, people would support hiring armed guards, and that there may be retired police officers who would be willing to volunteer their time to sit outside of a school. “Let’s think a little bit harder about what we are spending the money on,” she said.

Fellow parent Michele Pettignano-Coggins said the district’s unarmed security guards need to be protected and should be able to carry arms, as many of them are retired police officers. “Nobody should be a human shield,” she said. She asked the board to repurpose the budget to fund these security measures and cut spending on “frivolous things.”

Northport resident Christopher Cascio criticized board members several times, for not taking active shooter training or implementing armed guards in schools. He ended each criticism with a “shame on you” to the board, and said that school staff aren’t being trained to attack shooters and only have “security theater” to make people feel safe, when the equipment and protocols don’t actually work. “Your lack of care is disgraceful. Your lack of action is deplorable. You should be ashamed of yourselves,” he said to the board.

Cascio also asked about the district’s policy regarding active shooter training and whether or not teachers are trained to engage with a shooter. District Security Director John McEnroe indicated that it’s a safety risk to discuss the specifics of these types of protocols with the public. Specific questions about building windows and doors couldn’t be addressed for the same reasons.

In total, five residents spoke in favor of hiring armed guards for district schools and no one spoke against it.

At the end of the public hearing, BOE President Larry Licopoli said many people have been grappling with the conversation regarding gun violence and school security, and that the topic has to be revisited by the board. He reiterated that conversations among the board would have to start in executive session, as they’re a matter of student safety.

Each trustee cares deeply about the safety of every child in the district, Licopoli added, and any statement that implies otherwise is wrong. “We understand that we are in a different time in our society and it requires a lot of thoughtfulness and attention, and sometimes we just don’t have all the right answers. Right now, I think we are at one of those junctures and I think we need to revisit this,” he said.

The next board of education meeting is Thursday, April 13 at 7pm, in the Brosnan building cafeteria. The meeting notice can be found here.