Earlier this month, the Kingston City School District (KCSD) heard from members of the public who wanted to see a greater police presence on school grounds in the wake of a mass elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas in late May. During that same meeting of the Board of Education, school officials detailed how seriously they take school safety, both before and after Uvalde.
“Some of the things that we did in reaction to that immediately — the district and the principals reviewed and reinforced our current building safety procedures, including lockdown, lockout, hold-in-place, and regular drills as part of our policy,” said Superintendent Paul Padalino during the meeting on Wednesday, June 1. “We highlighted areas of building security, such as locked doors and visitor entry.”
Padalino explained that doors are locked at each of the district’s facilities, with access points where visitors have to be buzzed in after being visually seen by someone in the office. He added that the KCSD also conferred with the City of Kingston and Town of Ulster police departments, along with the Ulster County Sheriff’s Department and New York State Police Department. The district currently has two Kingston Police officers serving as SROs at Kingston High School and one at J. Watson Bailey Middle School; M. Clifford Miller Middle School has an SRO through the Town of Ulster Police Department.
“Now, as someone said, we did not have a police officer in every door,” Padalino said. “But every day, we had an increased presence. I really wanted to publicly thank all of the law enforcement agencies. I called them that night (Tuesday, May 24, the night after the Uvalde massacre), they were there the next morning and the KPD put two extra cop cars on the street to go around and check on all of our schools. The police came and saw me, gave me their cell phone number so we could contact them at any times where they could go wherever they need to go.”
The superintendent added that increasing the presence of police on school grounds on a regular basis is a conversation that may happen in the future.
“If this Board decides that there’s the feasibility of additional school resource officers, it’s whether that’s something that the local law enforcement could even provide given the manpower,” he said.
Last November, the KCSD School Board reviewed 23 changes suggested during a series of community forums, and through letters and e-mails. Among the recommended changes were disallowing the SRO to discipline students; formalizing the complaint process; adding further detail to daily activity logs; disallowing the serving of non-school warrants on district property; and training in implicit bias, crisis intervention, cultural diversity, community engagement, and restorative justice practices. The following month, the Board approved the framework of a new SRO contract implementing many of those changes.
But the speakers at the KCSD School Board meeting earlier this month felt the district should be doing more with the SRO program.
“Every current and future board member must put safety and security of all students…the staff and students have to be a top priority,” said Jolie Dunham, a former trustee and a music teacher at Arlington High School in Dutchess County. “There should be armed school resource officers in every building.”
With tensions and concerns heightened following the Uvalde shooting, which happened just 10 days after an 18-year old white supremacist killed ten Black people in Buffalo, also with a semiautomatic rifle, Padalino said he was pleased with the response of law enforcement in the district.
“Over the last four days, five days, they have been very present in and around our buildings,” Padalino said. “And I’m grateful to our law enforcement for making that happen.”
Padalino noted that the district has security cameras, and law enforcement and local fire departments have proximity cards to enter school buildings in the event of an emergency.
“This Board and the district have threat assessment teams and protocols, and we collaborate with local law enforcement regularly,” Padalino said.
The district was already planning further safety measures, including line items in the 2022-23 school year budget that was recently approved by the public, which includes adding door alarms to each external access point in the district.
Trustee Suzanne Jordan disputed the notion that the Board of Education doesn’t take student safety seriously. “Assumptions are made that it’s something that’s not on our radar, and it certainly is,” Jordan said, adding that stopping an active shooter is important, but so is stopping it from happening in the future.
“You hear so much during the aftermath of these terrible incidents, but I think it behooves us to recognize that gun violence is not just these school shootings, it’s a public health emergency,” Jordan said. “I think that from what I learned this week, there really has not been a commitment financially in the state or the country to look at what we really should be doing to prevent these things…in that all other health emergencies, there’s money to research, what will really help. And we haven’t done that with gun violence.”
Fellow trustee Nora Scherer said that part of the issue is with the availability of guns, particularly weapons designed for use in military conflict.
“Probably 80 to 90 percent of people everywhere believe that there should be more done in terms of gun control, especially in terms of automatic weapons that, they were invented for defense, for military actions,” she said.
Reina Lindhorst, a junior at Kingston High School with younger sisters at J. Watson Bailey Middle School, and a cousin in elementary school, spoke during the meeting to offer a student’s perspective, referencing another school shooting, the December 14, 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in which a 20-year old gunman slaughtered 20 children and six members of the staff.
“Sandy Hook happened when I was in first grade,” Lindhorst said. “So I’ve dealt with all the lockdowns, all the scares since then…I have a specific memory of it in first grade when we all had to hide and be quiet. And it was just a drill, but then we got rewarded for being quiet. And I don’t think any kid should have to go through that.”