SWR parents raise school security concerns

12/19/2012 12:45 PM |

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Louis Parrinello, principal of Miller Avenue school but speaking as a parent, urged the board and community to develop better security for district schools.

Miller Avenue School principal Louis Parrinello wasn’t wearing a tie when he addressed the Shoreham-Wading River school board Tuesday night. He was not speaking as an administrator, he said, but as a father.

Mr. Parrinello, his voice shaking with emotion, urged the board to be proactive about security at district schools and listen to parents who called for improved safety for the district’s kids.

“You’ve got the power, you’ve got the moment, you’ve got an enormous amount of support, we can make this happen,” Mr. Parrinello said.

More than a dozen parents packed into the Shoreham-Wading River school board meeting at Shoreham-Wading River High School Tuesday night, demanding the district increase security in the wake of Friday’s deadly school shooting in Connecticut that left 26 dead, including 20 children.

And after a spirited discussion, school officials said they would ensure that district schools were locked and that extra monitors were patrolling the schools beginning Wednesday.

Safety at district schools had been a concern long before the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings last week; the district was already installing security cameras as part of an enhanced security plan, pending state approval.

“I assure you that the board will do everything in its power to get everything done,” said board president William McGrath.

But parents at Tuesday night’s meeting said school doors have been left unlocked and that previous suggestions for improving safety haven’t been implemented. The priorities have shifted, parents said, and now something needed to be done.

Angela Canellys of Shoreham, a mother and a teacher in Selden, said she spoke before the board after the Columbine shootings more than 10 years ago and asked for a swipe-in security system for teachers. That policy was never pursued, she said.

“[The schools] are nowhere near secure and far too much time has passed,” Ms. Canellys said. “There is no time to waste.”

The discussion became heated when board members said that although they would do whatever they could as soon as they could, they were bound by the state education department approval process.

The parents in attendance weren’t satisfied.

“This is laughable, it really, truly is,” said Ms. Canellys. “We’re just asking you to lock the doors.”

Parents complained that lockdown drills hadn’t been practiced, that locks on school buildings were in disrepair and that the schools lacked enough security guards — and gasped as other parents detailed the holes in security they noticed.

The debate reached its peak when Justine Vricella, a Wading River mother, angrily demanded an answer from the board on what they would do immediately to improve safety, saying they had done nothing since the tragedy.

“I can’t even believe I wasted time coming here,” Ms. Vricella said. “I thought there were going to be answers. You guys had from Friday at 9:30 a.m. when this man shot 20 kids. 20 children. One of them could have been my daughter.

“Something needs to be done tomorrow,” she continued.

Mr. McGrath said administrators would make sure the schools were locked, as parents wished, and would have additional monitors in each school. He also said the district would begin taking steps to improve safety and try to convince legislators to cut away red tape that would slow down the process.

“I’m not so sure we’re going to wait for the state on most things,” he said. Superintendent Steven Cohen said he would update parents on safety procedures implemented over the holiday break, before students return to school on Jan. 2.

After the meeting, Mr. Parrinello and many other parents spoke outside the high school library about what they would suggest to the board.

While much of the discussion focused on short-term solutions like buzzers, locks and vestibules for screening visitors, Mr. Parrinello said in an interview that change was needed on a much larger scale.

“The best safety system is a connection to another human being,” he said, adding that conversations about gun control, mental health, society and more needed to happen.

For Mr. Parrinello, it seemed like a turning point had been reached, for both administrators and the public.

“[The shooting] was the 9/11 of elementary schools,” he said. “It was a watershed moment.”

psquire@timesreview.com