Parents air safety concerns at MCS board meeting

By Geoff Samuels
At the Margaretville Central School Board of Education meeting on December 19, a handful of parents expressed their anxiety over their children’s safety at school in light of the recent shootings in Newtown, CT.

Faith Wayman of Arkville, the first parent at to speak, wanted to know what the current safety guidelines were at the school and if there were any “emergency plans in place.”
Board President Randy Moore assured her that there was definitely an emergency plan and that, should there be an event in the school; there was a lock-down procedure that they would follow.

Drill frequency
Wayman continued her query asking whether a run-through of this procedure had been done so far this year, to which Superintendent Anthony Albanese responded that one had been done last spring.
Wayman was quick to point out that some of the new kids coming in, be it kindergarten, pre-K, or those moving up to high school might not know the new procedures, and told the board, “My son says he wouldn’t know what to do.”

Another parent, Keri Kowatch of Margaretville spoke out exclaiming, “And mine says the same thing. I have a sixth-grader and this is his first time upstairs; he says he doesn’t know if it’s different or not, he has no idea.”

She told the board that she also has a first-grader downstairs, and that he had said to her “we talked about it at school,” but complained that he would feel much safer if he knew what to do and how to do it.

Wayman continued, “So you guys plan it only once a year, and for the new students…”

Superintendent responds
Albanese quickly replied, “Let me explain just a little bit. Certainly the tragedy that happened is right in front of everyone’s mind…our responsibility is to keep our students and our staff safe, there’s no question about that. I think that as a district, there have been some things that have changed…and there are some things that we have to continue to talk about. The front door as we all know is open…and we have had conversations in the past whether that door should be locked or not…things have changed so we’re going to have to revisit that by all means.”

Albanese went on to explain that the back doors through which students come in from the buses in the morning will now only be open between 8 and 8:19 a.m., and will be locked up again before first period starts. He also said that the door on the side of the building where deliveries are brought in, which has been unlocked in the past, will now remain locked all day long.

“That is a change,” he said; “again, it’s not dramatic, but still it’s a change.”
Albanese added that the school is already pricing a new buzzer system for the front door, and is also looking at additional security cameras and an additional PA system for the outside of the building.

Urgency of the matter gets reinforced
Anthony Maggio of Fleischmanns, who told the board that he had trained with the Ulster County Sheriffs’ SWAT Team, pointed out that it only took about a minute-and-a-half for the first officer to show up at the school in Newtown, CT that Friday.

“We live in a rural area,” he said. “It’s going to take more than a minute-and-a-half, unless somebody happens to be around by luck, to get the first officer here.”

He maintained that MCS really needs to have a School Resource Officer (SRO) on the premises, and said he was sure that no one who paid taxes would have a problem with that.

“It doesn’t take long to lose a lot of lives by one active shooter…it takes one person to interrupt that active shooter,” he said adding, “I know it sounds like I’m overreacting, but we really should get an SRO in here, and metal detectors…detectors aren’t that much money now.”

Board President Moore responded to Maggio saying, “I think this is a good conversation to have…maybe the place to start… we can sit down with families and bring in the current plan that we have… and there is a current plan…”

“I understand what you’re trying to say,” replied Maggio. “But you know what, as time goes by, things get lax.”

At this point, board member Katie VanBenschoten opined, “I don’t think we’re quite prepared for this conversation tonight because (the Connecticut shooting) just happened. Some extra security measures are being taken right now…and there’s a meeting that will be happening in a couple of weeks where we will put all these ideas on the table,” she added.

Maggio again expressed his concern for the gravity of the situation, but Moore reassured him that they were taking the issue very seriously and encouraged him to continue to be part of the process.

Children need to be shown over and over
“It’s one thing to tell a child, here’s what you’re supposed to do,” said Kowatch, turning the board’s attention back to the young ones. “But a child of that age isn’t going to get it…they have to be shown how it’s done…and they have to be shown often. I think what we want is for you guys to be pro-active and call a drill as soon as possible,” she told the board.

“My 11-year-old said to me yesterday ‘Oh, it’s one in a million that it’s ever going to happen here’…but I’m not comfortable with my only two children waiting eight, nine, 10 months to do a lockdown drill.”

Albanese reassured her “We won’t be waiting that long, we won’t be.”