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Niskayuna School District Schedules Additional Dialogue After Lockdown

The Niskayuna Board of Education
Lucas Willard
/
WAMC
The Niskayuna Board of Education

The Niskayuna Central School District in Schenectady County has scheduled additional dialogue following a lockdown last week that kept students and staff in their classrooms hours after the final bell.

The threat discovered at Niskayuna High School November 5th led district officials to declare a lockdown as police searched the building. By the time the all-clear was signaled and students were allowed to leave, it was past 6 p.m.

Since then, the suburban district in Schenectady County found a student responsible for the threat.

A public forum on the lockdown was held the following Wednesday, where just hours before a “shelter-in-place” order came down after a note threatening violence against a student was discovered at one of the district’s middle schools.

Parents eager to hear district administrators address the recent threats attended this week’s Board of Education meeting.

Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra Jr. recognized the recent lockdown and other threats within the past few months as an emotional topic.

“I think it’s important that everyone know that the vast majority of comments that I have received either through email or people reaching out directly have been offers of support and assistance. I know that the negative comments seem to make it to the forefront – and for a variety of reasons – but the positive comments and the number of people in this community who just want to help, who just want to be part of the solution cannot be underscored and I’m very grateful to each and every person who has reached out to me,” said Tangorra.

Media reports circulating last week described students confined to their classrooms using makeshift bathrooms and some parents wanting to pull their students out of the district.

Student representative John Romano, a senior at Niskayuna High School, delivered a statement to the school board Tuesday.

“The student body is aware of the backlash the administration is receiving from the community from inconveniences we specifically faced during last Monday’s lockdown at the high school. But we understand why things had to happen the way they did and because of this I have yet to hear a student complain about being kept safe and we, the students, the ones who lived it, are thankful for the actions taken by the district and law enforcement,” said Romano.

A second public forum has been scheduled by the district for Monday, November 19th. A students-only forum to discuss the lockdown was scheduled for Thursday.

Niskayuna High School Principal John Rickert said teachers and administrators have been debriefed following the lockdown.

“I was aware of many, many efforts where teachers went out of their way to take care of kids. And that deserved recognition. But then we also talked about some procedures in terms what the police role is once they enter the building, because I think there was some confusion about that – about who is in charge, and when decisions are made, and how police decisions are communicated,” said Rickert. 

Rickert said officials have begun brainstorming ways to outfit classrooms in the event of another similar situation, saying the worst thing to do would be to say it could never happen again.

The district has more than 4,000 students.

“One of the biggest outcries we heard from the students and from the parents was this need to take care of individual student needs, whether it be bathroom, medication, food, water. And you can never obviously account for everything single thing that might come up in the way of a student need, but I think there are some main ones that – and we talked about that as a staff – about how we could possibly meet those needs in the future,” said Rickert.

Mary Eads, president of the Niskayuna Teachers Association union, highlighted some of the actions undertaken by teachers and staff during the lockdown. She told the school board the NTA had been operating without a contract for 136 days.

“Every single day we are without a contract, it is demoralizing and, frankly, a reflection of how little we are valued. The commitment and the results of professionals I represent, many of them standing with me today, day in and day out, year after year, deserve your respect in a fair contract,” said Eads. “It’s time for this board of education to show teachers what you truly think of them. We deserve a fair contract, thank you for listening.”

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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