Review school safety plans, concerned parents urged

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Members of the Granville Board of Education and superintendent Tom McGurl were asked on June 13 for their thoughts and feelings of the district’s safety plans following recent mass shootings across the nation.
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Coming on the heels of tragic mass shootings around the country, two concerned Granville Central School District mothers asked the Board of Education at its June 13 meeting about the district’s school safety plans.

Karen Rozell and Samantha Helinski said “we’re really scared” and asked the board about “what the district is doing to keep our schools safe and prevent them from gun violence.”

“Since all of the news, it’s kind of like the elephant in the room, I was wondering what’s our plan?” Rozell said. “I’m sure there’s some things that are already in plan that I don’t know about. I know parents are already talking amongst themselves and we’re really scared.”

Before replying with what Granville is doing as a district, school superintendent Tom McGurl asked a question of Rozell: “What has changed pre-Uvalde, Texas and now, any different from Columbine, Sandy Hook or the myriad of other school shootings that would indicate we need to change our plans?”

In response, Rozell, a Granville PTO member, described the concern by her and other district parents has become more “intense,” although she is “grateful the district has led us through Covid-19 and many challenges in a very good way.

“I don’t know what the plan is or if there is an existing plan besides the doors are locked and obviously some other common sense things,” Rozell said.

McGurl said that Granville has both building and district level security plans that are highly detailed in conjunction with the district’s security partner, Needham Risk Management Resource Group of East Greenbush.

The revised 37-page public “District Safety Plan” is available on the school’s website at https://cdn5-ss12.sharpschool.com/UserFiles/Servers/Server_12172691/File/Granville%20District%20Wide%20School%20Safety%20Plan%206-1-22%20For%20Public%20Comment%20(1).pdf.

“The plan is posted right now for review, that’s the public document. There’s a private document that we don’t share publicly, for obvious reasons,” McGurl said.

“I can tell you that we absolutely have plans in place. The flipside to that, this is probably the part that you won’t care for, in this day and age as you know, schools, groceries stores, you go down to Price Chopper, the people at Tops in Buffalo probably never thought that the grocery store was going to get shot up.

“We can’t guarantee 100% security,” McGurl said. “These are public buildings, we do our best, like you said, to keep doors locked when we see them propped open, obviously try to fix that. We have a pretty extensive security system with cameras, door alarms that let us know when doors are left ajar, whether intentionally or unintentionally. So, we do have those in place but in order to really fortify a school, it wouldn’t be a school anyone would want to send their kids to.”

Although he feels schools in the country aren’t at the turning point of introducing new levels of fortification, McGurl provided recommendations for those who want to increase school safety beyond the already established private and public building and district plans with “hardened” rules.

These included metal detectors at all doors, searching students upon arrival and granting entry to only people who work in the building, among others.

“What we try to do in school, I know Granville does this and other schools as well, is to try to find that balance where we have a level of security control of our facilities, but it is still in all essences a public facility.”

Rozell agreed with McGurl in saying she felt the “hardening” of schools was a “downstream reactive” approach. She felt it was important to bring her concerns in a positive manner with the goal of communicating to rally together following the heartbreaking tragedies.

“It is absolutely something that we take seriously, it’s our number one function,” McGurl said. “You turn your children over to us for the day, our responsibility is to not only educate them, but to keep them safe until we turn them back over to you again.”

Helinski, the mother of a sixth grader, used her time in the “public comment” session to question board members of children in the district, Kimberly Bascom, Mario Torres and Michele O’Brien.

“You guys have kids in the school district,” Helinski said. “You’ve seen the plans. Do you feel comfortable with the school’s safety plans? Do you have any concerns?”

Without hesitation, Bascom responded: “I have no reservations sending either one of my girls to school on a daily basis. The good thing about this is they practiced their lockdown drills, they know safety, ‘see something, say something.’ I think a lot of it is the school being as prepared as they possibly can, but it also happens at home too with parents. You see something, you say something, you have questions, let’s talk about them. I have no problems whatsoever.”

Torres, who has a law enforcement background, he seconded Bascom’s comments and provided insight to his children’s approach.

“My children are a little bit more technical savvy when it comes to certain situations, but I have no reservations,” Torres said to Helinski.

O’Brien said she empathizes with the concerns of Rozell and Helinski as she prepares to send off her son to SUNY Buffalo this fall.

Board vice president Shirley Kunen chimed in as well as she has a granddaughter who will be joining the district this fall and her youngest son graduated last year.

Kunen pushed for community members to review the district safety plan and provide questions and/or suggestions to McGurl in writing during the 30-day public comment period expiring July 15 at 3 p.m.

“I’m in agreement with the fears, you see it on the news. I understand where you ladies are coming from, we all do,” Kunen said. “That being said, please, you’re (Rozell) on the PTO and so you’re a great advocate. Pass the word for people to review this. It’s open for people to review. Get the feedback to Tom (McGurl). The more people that look at it and see it, it may at least allay some fears. And right now, as you know, the unknown is what is fearful.”

The public plan has language that addresses the proper processes and individuals involved in decision-making in the event of an emergency in accordance to the State of New York’s Safe Schools Against Violence in Education (SAVE) law.

“This component of Project SAVE is a comprehensive planning effort that addresses risk reduction/prevention, response, and recovery with respect to a variety of emergencies in the school district and its schools,” the public plan said.

“The Granville Central School District supports the SAVE legislation and intends to facilitate the planning process. The superintendent encourages and advocates on-going district-wide cooperation and support of Project SAVE.”

Board president Audrey Hicks added that when sharing the document, to remember there are plans that cannot be revealed to the public for the security of the members inside the district buildings.

“Thank you very much for bringing your concerns and I think many people share your concerns,” Hicks said. “Just know that we are doing everything we can to keep the kids safe.”