Peekskill School Officials, Parents Address Safety

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Peekskill school officials and school board trustees discussed school safety with the public Tuesday night.
Peekskill school officials and school board trustees discussed school safety with the public Tuesday night. Photo Credit: Art Cusano

PEEKSKILL, N.Y. - Following Friday's horrific school shooting in Newtown, Conn., district parents and other residents on hand at Tuesday's board of education meeting wanted to know what was being done to help make sure a similar incident doesn't happen in Peekskill.

Peekskill resident George Ondek asked the district to add more school resource officers and metal detectors at the schools.

"There is no place on the streets of America for assault weapons or semiautomatic pistols," Ondek said. "I'm an ex-soldier from Vietnam, and I can tell you that. They are weapons of war."

Shannon Casiano asked that lockdown procedures and safety training for teachers and school staff be increased.

"My daughter is in the middle school, and she is still unsure about certain things with the lockdown. So maybe you can address that with students and staff, as well," Casiano said.

Barbara Castaneda, another district parent, said she and others were happy to see increased police presence Monday morning at Woodside Elementary but hoped it would continue all day.

"We felt safe Monday morning, when we came back after what happened over the weekend, to see two cop cars there to greet the kids. But what we didn't know was that they were going to be leaving. We thought they were going to be there the whole day," Castaneda said.

School Board President Joseph Urbanowicz said the board has discussed extensively, in executive session, emergency plans and what else can be done. The board is asking district administrators to prepare more-extensive emergency precautions, he said.

"We can't talk about what our plans are in public, for obvious reasons. We wouldn't want everyone to know the plan, because the bad guys may be listening, too," Urbanowicz said.

Superintendent of Schools James Willis said the Peekskill Police Department currently provides one full-time school resource officer at the high school and a part-time officer for the rest of the district. The district also does periodic testing of buildings to practice lockdowns, Willis said.

"When we get done with those lockdown tests in the buildings, we go back and ask what we could have done better and try to improve," Willis said.

Willis said he and area superintendents who belong to the Lower Hudson Council of School Superintendents are planning to support legislation that would ban all assault weapons.

The school district is also supporting state legislation that would allow districts to more easily hire school resource officers through BOCES, Willis said.

When asked what parents can do to help, Willis suggested they contact elected officials.

"Reach out to legislators and tell them that our schools need more money to hire security for districts," he said.

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