Kingston school district promises better communication in wake of BB gun incident

Ron Cardis speaks at the Jan. 9 school board meeting. (Photo by Nicole Terpening)

In the wake of a recent incident with a BB gun at M. Clifford Miller Middle School, the Kingston City School District last week announced steps to not only improve security on campus, but to also ensure the lines of communication between school officials and the public are open.

During Jan. 9’s school board meeting, Superintendent Paul Padalino spoke about the incident, which had occurred prior to the district’s winter break. 

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“On Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018, it was reported to M. Clifford Miller Middle School administration that a student was in possession of a BB gun,” said Padalino. “Within minutes the building administration removed that student from the population and were able to confiscate this BB gun. During the subsequent investigations, it was learned that the student had threatened another student and possibly discharged the BB gun in one of the boy’s bathrooms the previous day.”

While school officials said they felt the situation was handled appropriately in the school, the lack of communication which followed led to speculation and anger on social media. A community forum held at Miller two days prior to the school board meeting helped, said some parents, but for others, concern about communication from school officials is still an issue.

Ron Cardis is a parent of two girls at Miller and a longtime police officer. During the meeting, Cardis lauded the district’s initial school-level response, but felt too little information was being given to parents and the public at large. 

“I found the events prior to the school break distressing, to say the least,” Cardis said. “It was primarily the lack of communication. I commend the fact that you had the actor detained, as has been said, in a matter of minutes. However, what was the guarantee, as happens frequently, he or she wasn’t acting in concert with someone else? Why was the school not placed on lockdown immediately? That I find very distressing.

“We were looking for answers, we were looking for information,” Cardis said. “And we were met with silence.”

Tory Lowe, another district parent, agreed. “The main concern was the communication issue afterwards, and the lack of it,” she said. “And the fact that in an effort to prevent mass panic, silence is what created the mass panic. Because there were a lot of Facebook conversations and the beginning of rumors.”

Padalino said that with regard to the specifics of the BB gun incident, there was only so much the district was allowed to say.

“I know many people wanted to know what was going on as far as consequences, but due to student privacy laws, I am unable to give specific details about the exact nature of the discipline consequences,” he said. “But the student in question has been suspended and we have and will continue to follow the Kingston City School District Code of Conduct, the law and State Education Department Regulations.”

Still, Padalino acknowledged, the district could have done a better job of getting the word out.

“In reviewing this event, it was clear that we did not effectively and promptly communicate this to the entire school population,” he said. “We are changing our practices and will be more proactive and effective about communicating situations such as this moving forward. Parents are our partners in all that we do. At the end of the day, I am responsible for ensuring proper communication. This failure will not be repeated.”

Three steps

According to Padalino, the district is undertaking three immediate changes to try and prevent incidents like what happened at Miller Middle School from taking place, as well as ensuring the public receives pertinent information as quickly as possible, in part to avoid the perils of gossip on social media from potentially making a bad situation worse.

Among the steps the district is taking is the posting for a temporary communication specialist to take over a role that has been left vacant since July due to maternity leave. Also, LeShawn Parker, the district’s coordinator of safety and prevention, will research and report to the school board on enhanced safety measures, up to and including metal detectors.

The district also went live with an anonymous tips system called iWitnessNY, which allows students and others to report possible issues “free from fear of retaliation”; the system is available on the district’s official website and app.

Lowe said she hoped the tips system would work.

“People need to get out of that mindset of ‘snitches get stitches,’” she said. “It’s old. It doesn’t have any place in our society today.”

Padalino said the district would continue seeking ways of improving school safety, for students, faculty and the public.

“Safety is and must be our first concern,” said Padalino. “Our building and safety plans are current, practiced and approved by the State Education Department.  We are committed to our School Resource Officer (SRO) program and our relationship with our local law enforcement remains very strong. We have made several improvements in our safety capacity over the last several years, including adding cameras and staff at the middle schools and the new, more secure entrances at KHS. We will continue to make improvements and adjustments as we move forward to make sure that our students, staff and community are safe.”

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