Parents flood BOE with safety concerns

City Police Chief Marc Porter addresses parents' safety concerns following a supposed threat to the Gloversville Middle School during Monday's GESD Board of Education meeting. (The Leader-Herald/Ashley Onyon)

GLOVERSVILLE — City parents questioned what measures are in place and what further steps can be taken to keep their children safe at Monday’s school board meeting following a threat over the weekend to the Gloversville Middle School that police later deemed not credible.

The Gloversville Enhanced School District released a statement Sunday that a threat to the middle school had been posted to Snapchat over the weekend. A parent notified local law enforcement of the threat, who notified school district officials.

Following an investigation, the Gloversville Police Department deemed the threat not credible. Police were present on school campuses Monday morning as a precautionary measure to reassure students and staff.

Parents packed the regular GESD Board of Education meeting Monday night demanding more information surrounding the threat to the middle school and what the district was doing to keep students safe.

City police Chief Marc Porter attended the meeting, saying that his department heard from a number of sources Friday regarding a threatened school shooting made over social media targeting the middle school. Sources could not provide a source or instance of the threat supposedly made over Snapchat and investigating officers could not find a post threatening violence.

“Basically, there was a rumor that there was going to be some sort of school shooting at the middle school. They gave a date, but no one could point us to the source,” Porter said. “There was no post that I’m aware of. If anyone has further information please feel free to share it.”

Porter assured parents that in the course of investigation city police contacted New York State Police, the New York State Intelligence Center and the Joint Terrorism Task Force for information and assistance.

Although police have not been able to identify a threat, he said that parents and students had done the right thing coming forward with the information.

“We’re chasing our tail with this, but you can’t dismiss it. We have a duty to investigate, for one. Under my watch we’re not going to dismiss it, because the one time you ignore something that’s when you run the risk,” Porter said. “We’re continuing to follow up, there’s work being done right now.”

The school board asked Porter to attend the meeting about a week before the supposed threat to the middle school was made to answer questions from parents regarding safety measures in the district. He said that he had reviewed current plans and found that they were consistent with industry standards.

Porter highlighted the communication between city police and the school district, saying the two organizations have a good relationship that is beneficial to both. He noted that the district allows police to train in the buildings when school is not in session over breaks, allowing greater familiarity in an emergency.

In order to improve security, he recommended numbering classrooms and their windows consistent with the system used in Johnstown to provide easier navigation and prevent confusion if a situation arose requiring response from an outside agency.

City police currently have access to buildings through cards and keys, Porter asked that the school district go a step further in providing police access to the district’s SchoolTool student information system and surveillance cameras.

GESD Superintendent of Schools Robert DeLilli said the district is currently looking into the steps and equipment necessary to provide police integrated access to the camera system.

Porter also broached the subject of introducing a school resource officer into the district.

Fulton County Sheriff Richard Giardino made a proposal to the public safety committee at the county level for a single school resource officer to be provided by the U.S. Department of Justice through the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. If the position is granted, the resource officer would be shared between the seven school districts in the county, including GESD and GJSD.

Porter said that he can also request authorization from the city to apply for funding for a school resource officer to serve only GESD. He noted that the department added four positions in 2017 and is required to remain at the current staffing level for three years.

The city police department currently employs approximately 35 officers.

He said additional conversations would be needed to determine if the school district would contribute to the nearly $100,000 annual salary for an officer, not including benefits.

“It’s a pretty significant lift, but the return on your investment would bring a school resource officer into your buildings,” Porter said.

According to Porter the school district previously had school resource officers in each of the buildings, but the positions were cut around 2002 when the police department lost five as the result of budget cuts. After school, the resource officers would patrol the streets for two to three hours until their 12-hour shift ended.

“We just couldn’t support those programs. We have to safely staff our officers responding to emergencies on the street,” Porter said. “We were successful while it lasted. Certainly losing those programs, I don’t think did anything beneficial for the school district or for the police department.”

Board of Education member Kevin Kucel said that he would like to see the district restore the positions placing an officer in every building.

“Unfortunately the world that we’re in now, I don’t think there’s any turning back,” Kucel said. “We need to find a way.”

Porter said he could discuss options with the board further and begin looking at application deadlines for grant funding.

“I’m not opposed to the sheriff’s proposal, I think their idea is very sound. Rotating an officer around is a good start. Obviously if you have someone dedicated to a certain building you have a certain level of consistency and familiarity,” Porter said.

Kucel then asked when active shooter training was last provided in the schools.

DeLilli said the training was provided in 2008 or 2009 as a joint venture with GJSD through the Homeland Security Commission. Homeland Security gave a demonstration and held a discussion for staff members from both school districts and local law enforcement officials.

When Kucel recommended that the training be performed again, Porter said city police could provide in-service training, with role playing and a presentation or the district could seek a certified vendor after determining the type of training model they want to disseminate.

Michelle Bouchard, a grandmother to two children in the district, asked if lockdown drills are performed and if children know what to do in an emergency.

“I know that we never needed this when I was a kid,” Bouchard said. “We just want our kids safe.”

DeLilli said the drills are randomly performed four times a year. During the drills, and in the event of a real lockdown, classroom doors are locked and students are instructed to remain quiet and out of sight. Students and staff shelter in place until notified by administration over the PA system or law enforcement comes to the room.

A lockdown would be called in the event of a safety issue in the school or an external issue in the surrounding neighborhood.

If a situation arose requiring parent notification, DeLilli said a central command post would be established with a single person authorized to contact parents and guardians to provide details and instructions.

DeLilli noted that he could not provide more specific details regarding the district’s plans and procedures in the event of a safety issue in order to maintain the security of students and staff.

Parents also asked about the possibility of installing bullet proof glass windows and providing metal detectors at school entrances.

Board of Education member Vincent Salvione said that the board is currently discussing applying a bullet resistent coating to school windows as part of a capital project. DeLilli questioned the viability of metal detectors given the number of students that would need to pass through them each morning.

He pointed out that building staff are present at each entrance during arrivals and dismissals to ensure that only authorized individuals access the buildings during the time when the doors are unlocked.

Middle School Principal Mark Batty assured parents that staff members recognize who belongs in the schools and will prevent unauthorized people from entering.

Thomas Sean Jackson, a father of two boys in the school district, said that his eldest son is struggling in light of the threat to the middle school and didn’t want to go to school Monday.

“Times are so different now,” Jackson said. “He is really concerned about being relaxed and being safe to come to school,”

DeLilli encouraged parents of children who feel concerned or unsafe going to school to contact their building principals and counselors for support.

DeLilli thanked Porter and district family members for attending the meeting and sharing their input.

“Collectively we can see things more than just one person with a set of eyes and ears. If we’re doing it collectively as a community we can take back our community,” DeLilli said. “As a family, as a community, we won’t stand for this.”

He reaffirmed that the district will not put students at risk and will listen to any concerns from students, parents and staff before taking the appropriate action.

The Board of Education did not take any action in response to the discussion, but plans to explore options further as a board and as a community through a discussion night they will be scheduling.