NORTH SALEM, N.Y.-The administration at North Salem Middle/High School has always stressed the importance of safety as it works to create a comfortable learning environment for students, teachers and staff alike, and many feel this attitude has only strengthened since the school shooting in Parkland, Fla.
District officials believe they have prepared sufficiently should such event occur in the district, but recognize there’s always room for improvement. They seek to make North Salem schools fully capable of responding to any dangerous situation, especially in handling an active shooter in a school building.
“I think we do a fantastic job because we know we don’t know everything. We bring people to the table who have great experience,” said Middle/High School Principal Vincent DiGrandi. “We meet on a regular basis with a district safety team.”
But in the wake of the mass shootings, both school officials and students are finding their duties and lives are changing.
“Overall, without a doubt, a huge change happened after Sandy Hook,” DiGrandi said. “To me, school safety is not just the (school resource officer) or lock the doors; it’s protocols about how to sign in and leave, it’s all very encompassing.”
And students at all grade levels indicated they felt safe at school.
“In North Salem, there’s no real threats,” said Zach C., an 11th grader.
Echoing that sentiment was ninth-grader Andrew C., who said, “We have police officers and pretty good security.”
Even so, DiGrandi asked rhetorically, “Can we always do more? I think it’s always a balance. Do you want to walk into a school that has bars on the windows and metal detectors? I would say that I’m very comfortable where we are at, but not complacent. I think there are things that kids don’t even know are occurring behind the scenes that will keep us all safe and that will continue to occur.
“It goes back to balance. You don’t want it to get to the point where it interferes with the learning process,”
DiGrandi said. “Where that balance is, I don’t know that I can individually figure that out.”
Recently, DiGrandi held an assembly with juniors and seniors to discuss how and whether students will participate in a national walkout planned for March 14. The event, ENOUGH: National School Walkout, an initiative organized by Women’s March Youth Empower, calls for students and staff to walk out of their schools for 17 minutes, one minute for each individual killed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, at 10 a.m. The walkout is in protest of inaction by Congress on the issue of gun control.
However, the North Salem school community has given it a different assignment. After conversations with students, DiGrandi learned that students were more interested in showing support for the victims.
Still, when it comes to what students will do on March 14 remains to be seen, although ideas are actively being discussed.
“Is there an aspect that is the protest of gun laws? Yes, but I’m hearing a lot more of, we want to do something for Parkland and the kids of the school because we’re both sympathetic and empathetic to what they have gone through because they are our-aged kids. It’s not ‘protest,’ it’s, ‘let’s walk out in support of,’ which is a very different mindset.
“I can’t tell you today what exactly March 14th’s plan is going to be. I think it’s going to be a combination of things; I don’t think it’s one size fits all,” DiGrandi said. “Some are saying, ‘I don’t want to walk out, but I do want to support them’.”
North Salem students and staff don’t agree on what to do, either, especially when it comes to their feelings on gun control and whether there should be armed guards or even armed teachers, as was proposed by President Donald Trump, at the school.
“Our country needs more sensible gun laws to adapt to modern weapons technology,” said Christopher Regan, a social studies teacher for Grades 9 and 10.
He said he believes the Second Amendment is an important part of the Constitution. Yet, Regan makes it clear he feels that a suitable solution can be found, that legislators can find a middle ground.
Zach C. said he is concerned that any changes by Congress regarding the Second Amendment could restrict the ability of law-abiding citizens to protect themselves.
“I’m pro-Second Amendment,” he said.
He said he wouldn’t mind if teachers were armed, but would want them to be rigorously trained, and suggested that bringing in veterans as security personnel could be another workable solution.
Furthermore, he said, “Kids should be taught gun safety. Concealed carry saves lives.”
Other students said arming teachers would be asking too much of them.
“Teachers aren’t supposed to be trained for that,” said Andrew C.
Charlie R., a 12th grader, agreed. “An increase in guns would not help anything,” he said.