The Somers Board of Education presented a timeline last week of security upgrades for the district’s buildings and announced it would be creating a security task force.
The safety updates from the board come in the wake of two alleged shooting threats made against the district. On June 1, students alerted staff to a statement written on the wall of the boy’s bathroom that read: “I am going to shoot up the school,” followed by a student’s name.
While police are still investigating the incident, Blanch called it a “horrible adolescent prank,” which drew criticism from parents. At the school board meeting Tuesday, June 12, he apologized for using the word “prank” and said the district is taking the threat seriously.
“My intent was not to belittle the situation,” Blanch said. “I live in the middle school. I have a daughter at the high school still. By all means, I can tell you this entire faculty and staff takes the safety and security of students of the utmost importance. I apologize to the board and the community if there was any sense that I did not take it seriously.”
In May, a 16-year-old from Chappaqua was arrested and charged with making a terroristic threat and aggravated harassment for texting a girl in Somers, “I think we should go back to your school and kill everyone. When I’m 18 I’m gonna buy an ar15 and shoot everyone at the school (sic).”
The girl he texted previously attended Somers High School but no longer does. School officials have not released more details about either incident.
During the June 12 meeting, the board approved a contract with Altaris Consulting Group for $8,400 for the evaluation of the safety and security of the district’s buildings and the viability of emergency plans and emergency preparedness.
Westchester County Police Sgt. Amery Bernhardt, who supervises the county school resource officers, also attended the meeting and said the officers are in constant communication with the school staff.
The school currently has two resource officers that it shares among the buildings. Starting in the fall, there will be an officer at each building for nine hours during the day.
By September 2019, each classroom will also have a phone that connects directly to the police department.
Construction is set to begin in the fall, too, on security vestibules at Primrose Elementary School and Somers Middle School.
In the interim, the district will assemble the safety task force with members from the district administration, law enforcement, staff members from each school’s individual safety teams, community members with a security background, and high school student representatives.
On Sept. 18, it’s expected that the security task force will present its findings on the most effective safety measures to the Board of Education during its monthly public meeting.
However, for some parents, the district is moving too slowly.
“We were all here three months ago when on the heels of the Parkland shooting, parents asked for immediate action,” said parent Donna Pascucci. “Since that time, we’ve had plenty of talk but there has not been one tangible strategy to protect our children. Future plans are all well and good but will be little consolation if the worst happens before they are implemented.”
Pascucci demanded school resource officers be in place for the end of the year and metal detectors installed at the entrances of the school.
Another parent, Bob Ondrovic, asked the board what it was doing to identify students who could potentially cause violence.
“I can’t recall any shooter being a valedictorian,” Ondrovic said. “It’s great to have something in place like the security vestibule, but someone has to be in place to figure out what is in these students’ minds.”
Blanch said the district’s mental health team is “pretty unparalleled” and any children struggling emotionally are connected with mental-health services.
Parent Kim Grillo also asked whether metal detectors “at the minimum” could be put in place for September. She said it would bring students comfort to know guns weren’t coming into the school.
“How do I look at my daughter and ask her to attend school the next day, and get on the bus, and, oh, by the way, your school was threatened,” Grillo said. “I trust that you guys would never put them on the bus if they aren’t safe, but you don’t 100 percent know.”
Board of Education Trustee Joseph Marra encouraged parents to wait for the recommendations of the new security task force.
“We’re going to have people investigate and look at things and give us assessments. We have the summer to do that, so by the end of August, when you’re children are getting ready to come back to school, there will be a plan in place and those things will be done,” Marra said. “We can’t act immediately. What we can do is take measured approaches, listen to experts and implement their plans. That’s what we can do. But to jump and do something, because something has happened…there are things that have been done, but not everything is something you can see.”