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Niskayuna CSD Administrators Address Concerns Following Lockdown

Niskayuna Central School District administrators
Lucas Willard
/
WAMC
Niskayuna Central School District administrators

Discussion continued in the Niskayuna Central School District last night following an hours-long lockdown earlier this month that distressed some parents and students.

The community forum Monday evening at Niskayuna High School comes after a contentious forum earlier this month just two days after a lockdown that kept high school students in their classrooms until past 6 p.m.

A students-only forum was also held last week.

Monday, school administrators and law enforcement answered questions submitted by parents and students.  Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra Jr. also gave a presentation on how the district has responded to not only the November lockdown but to several incidents in the past few months. The last time a lockdown occurred was in June at one of the district’s middle schools.

“All of the work that we’re doing is for that one purpose: to focus on creating an environment where every individual student in this district feels welcome,” said Tangorra.

The district says it has put in place several steps to address concerns. For example, emergency kits are being placed in every classroom. Documentation for students with special medical needs is being made more readily available. Emergency training with students and staff is being made more consistent.

But there are still several common wishes. The Niskayuna Central School District does not have a school resource officer, though has in the past through a grant-funded program.

Tangorra, who came to the district in 2015, says school resource officers are a great idea, but he cautioned parents about developing a false sense of security if the district hires an SRO.

“The school resource officer is not an armed guard. The school resource officer is not there to keep people safe,” said Tangorra.

Tangorra says an SRO should be used to develop a relationship between the school and the police department.

During the most recent lockdown, students were required to stay in their classrooms, some using makeshift bathrooms because they couldn’t be led out of the room while police searched the building.

Niskayuna Deputy Police Chief Michael Stevens said the district “ran into that hurdle” during lockdowns this month and in June.

“That was weighing on me, the fact that children couldn’t go to the bathroom. But, again, safety is number one,” said Stevens.

Earlier this month, the Niskayuna Police Department relied on mutual aid as officers and K-9 units from across the Capital Region assisted the department in searching the 70,000-square foot high school.

Parents and students raised concerns about not receiving details during the search.

Superintendent Tangorra warned against potentially false information being spread on social media and said the district must “strike a balance” in releasing information to have students take the lockdown seriously, but not cause more stress than necessary.

Deputy Chief Stevens agreed, but added:

“We’re also trying to investigate a crime. So when an investigation is going on, we can’t put a ton of information out there and make people more comfortable. We get it that it’s an uncomfortable situation.  But we still have to look at the fact that somebody did this, it is a crime. And our ultimate goal is to ensure the safety of the students and the staff, but then also hold somebody accountable for that crime,” said Stevens.

The importance of communication among officers, said Stevens, is also why officers assisting from another department could not be utilized to lead students to the bathroom or another part of the building that had already been swept. Also important: slowing down.

“Once we have control of a scene, if we slow down we’re less likely to miss something. And the margin of error on something like this is, really, none,” said Stevens.

The principals of the two middle schools and Niskayuna High School all remarked on the importance of drills and how students are taking them seriously.

Van Antwerp Middle School principal Luke Rakoczy said he’s tried to break down messaging to students during an emergency.

“Go to the nearest classroom, take direction from the nearest adult, and if you can’t get behind a locked door in a classroom, do what you need to do in your environment to keep yourself safe,” said Rakoczy.

After concerns were addressed for 90 minutes Monday night, Superintendent Tangorra assured the audience that the conversations will continue.

“These are conversations that have been going on for several, several years. And will continue to take place going forward,” said Tangorra.

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