East End schools opened Monday morning with flags at half staff and heavy hearts—the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, on Friday in which 20 children were killed, fresh on staff and students’ minds.
Concerns about how to protect children have spurred school district officials across the East End to look for ways to better prepare for a similar emergency. In East Hampton, School Superintendent Richard Burns sent a letter out to the school community announcing that the district’s safety procedures, which are normally reviewed at the start of each school year, “are being viewed again now with fresh eyes at all levels.”
Security has already been tightened up at East Hampton High School, where exterior doors are locked in addition to those within the vestibules, and security cameras will be trained on visitors, who must show identification, before they can be buzzed into the building. A breezeway between the science and art wings has been locked. An East Hampton Town Police officer, Matthew Rodriguez, was already on the premises during each school day.
Faculty and staff at the Montauk School, whose exterior doors are also locked, met on Monday afternoon to review and revise safety procedures, according to Grace Lightcap, the district clerk. Principal Jack Perna notified parents that he had spoken with East Hampton Town Police Chief Ed Ecker Jr. and Officer Kim Notel on Friday about safety plans at the school.
At the Springs School, which had security cameras installed inside and out over the summer, the front door has been locked, Principal Eric Casale said Monday. Springs administrators met on Friday with East Hampton Town Police Captain Michael Sarlo, who, Mr. Casale said in an email to parents, would continue to assist the school “with ongoing review of all our security procedures.”
“All districts are reviewing all of our safety plans,” said Eleanor Tritt, the Amagansett School superintendent, on Monday. Officer Notel visited that school on Monday; in the past, as at East Hampton High School, visitors have been buzzed in through an interior door after walking in through an open exterior one, Ms. Tritt said.
Captain Sarlo and East Hampton Village Police Chief Jerry Larsen both said that the Columbine shootings in 1999 had inspired changes in this area. An emergency services unit, which is essentially a SWAT team, was created to avoid having to wait for responders from the county, Chief Larsen said. Created in 2000, it has members from the East Hampton Town, East Hampton Village and Sag Harbor Village Police Departments, who are trained monthly in “all of the tactics and weapons ... to neutralize whatever is happening,” Chief Larsen said. He also said that the village police have a good relationship with the Town Police department, in whose jurisdiction lies East Hampton High School. The elementary and middle schools are protected by Village Police.
“I don’t think we’re immune to it happening here,” he said. “We’ve just got to do the best we can.”
Captain Sarlo said some parents had asked the police to send a couple of patrol cars to the schools, but that his department had decided that might be as alarming for some as it would be comforting for others. “We want to stay on the same page as the schools,” he said, adding that just a week before the Sandy Hook shootings he had reached out to school administrators to offer support in updating emergency plans, which the districts update annually. According to the captain, the schools furnish details about evacuation plans and classroom number systems, and responders do drills at the schools when there are no students there, to train in confronting “active shooters.”
Ultimately, it would be helpful to have uniformed patrol officers “show their faces in the school a little bit,” he said, both to get the kids acquainted with officers other than Matthew Rodriguez, at the high school, or Kim Notel, who travels between schools as a DARE officer, and to familiarize officers with the routines and everyday life when school is in session.
In Southampton Town, school superintendents, political leaders, police agencies and other first responders met at the Hampton Bays Middle School on Tuesday to discuss and better coordinate area-wide preparedness, according to Southampton School Superintendent Dr. J. Richard Boyes. Dr. Boyes said on Monday that each school principal will be meeting with their crisis teams to discuss responses to the tragedy based on need and developmental levels.
Sag Harbor Superintendent of Schools Dr. Carl Bonuso opened a regularly scheduled School Board meeting on Monday by noting that many in the community have been asking about the security in Sag Harbor. He said the district has safety plans in place, but will reevaluate them. He also said that in addition to security issues, the maladies behind such violence must be addressed before they “fester.”