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December 13, 2013

Area educators: Post-Newtown schools are safer

By Mark Boshnack Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — Area schools are safer today than at the time of the Newtown school shootings, officials interviewed about the subject said Thursday.

Saturday will mark the one-year anniversary of the shootings at the Connecticut elementary school, in which 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 students, six administrators, his mother and himself.

Oneonta Police Chief Dennis Nayor said incidents like Newtown make people aware that such tragedies can happen anywhere.

“Our training has to adapt in response,” he said, adding he didn’t want to give specifics to preserve the department’s edge, but he is always looking at case studies and training to improve the situation.

“We hope we never need it, but should such a situation arise, we are prepared,” he said. Since Newtown, more thought has gone into making sure schools are as safe as possible, he said, and “all we can do is put all the odds in our favor.”

Oneonta City School District Superintendent Joseph Yelich said the school is continuing its security efforts though such things as regular safety committee meetings. The incident has reinforced the district’s dedication to best practices and has made its buildings safer, he said.

A collaboration with local law enforcement, Yelich said, will give professionals a chance to prepare for the full range of possibilities schools are facing, when it comes to safety.

Yelich started in the post in July but after Newtown, the district increased monitors at the entry to its buildings and reduced the number of access points. Voters also approved a building project in January, already in the works at the time, that’s designed to further increase security.

Sidney Central School Superintendent Bill Christensen said “any type of tragedy makes you reflect on your own practices.” Last summer, administrators spent time with state police police to see if any changes were needed, and the resulting measures included placing speed bumps around the campus and changing access to the buildings, he said.

Much was in place before Newtown, but it reminded districts of the need to be ready and prepared for anything, he said. After the tragedy, the school put monitors in all offices so staff can monitor all access points. An upcoming building project will improve on that, by giving staff the ability to see more of what is happening.

Christensen said he did not want to share specifics about emergency planning. “We don’t want to publicize it so responses are not predictable.”

But with regular practicing, “We are safer because we are more aware of our plan,” he said.

Morris Central School Superintendent Matthew Sheldon said after Newtown, police agencies have worked with the district to review its emergency practices. No new procedures have come down from the state, but the school crisis committee has made small changes, he said..

While most details were kept confidential to ensure safely, Morris was willing to talk about some steps. Administrators greet students in the morning, in part to make sure nothing is out of order. The district is also working with students to let them know that if they are having a problem, such as bullying, there are people at the school that want to help, he said.

While the motives of the Newtown shooter are unknown, bullying has been a factor in other incidents of school violence, he said. Along with character education, this is a process that could reach a person before there is a problem, he said.