Expect greater police presence at some Hudson Valley schools Monday
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There will be more police and school counselors Monday at some Hudson Valley schools as leaders prepare for children to return to school in the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn., shootings.
Local school officials are attempting to soothe parent fears about school safety after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in which 26 people, including 20 children, all ages 6 or 7, were killed by gunman Adam Lanza, who then took his own life.
North Salem School District Superintendent Kenneth Freeston reassured parents by sharing his personal connection to the shootings. He lives in Newtown, Conn., and worked in the school district as an assistant superintendent, he said in a message to parents Sunday. Further, one of the district's elementary school principals, Mary Johnson, began her career as a first-grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
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"With our closeness to the town and this terrible tragedy and with our experienced staff and administrators, we are able to apply a deep personal understanding of the effects of tragedies on young lives," Freeston wrote. "We will be ready to support individual students who are having a particularly difficult time."
There will be additional police presence at North Salem schools Monday, as well as in Pleasantville, administrators said.
In other districts, the Newtown shooting will prompt reviews of safety protocols, with an eye toward assuring every staff member is prepared.
In Yorktown, Ossining and Pearl River, schools will review their school safety plans Monday, superintendents said. Other districts also said they would modify procedures with any lessons that come from analyzing the Newtown incident.
South Orangetown schools in Rockland will be preparing teachers before class Monday on how to respond to children's concerns and questions.
"We have a set of protocols in place to ensure that only those who belong in schools are allowed to enter," Superintendent Kenneth Mitchell wrote in an email. "While no school is impenetrable, we make every effort to protect the security of each building."
In Yonkers, parents were feeling a mixture of sadness and concern, said Kelly Chiarella, president of the Westchester East Putnam Region PTA and a mother of two whose youngest son attends Yonkers Public Schools. School and municipal budget cuts have left the schools with a meager counseling staff and with a reduced security presence, Chiarella said.
"We need more support personnel. We need security guards. We need to assure that policies are in place," Chiarella said.
She said parents were mobilized with information about state requirements to question their school principals about security policies and the frequency of lockdown drills.
But Chiarella said that a phone message to parents from Superintendent Bernard Pierorazio eased some fears. Pierorazio promised extra support staff at schools and a review of all building security procedures.
Some parents, however, didn't believe that any school security plan would have prevented the Sandy Hook tragedy.
"I don't think this was a lack of preparedness on the school's behalf. This was a deranged individual," said Jeff Burchett, a Mount Kisco parent whose daughter attends preschool in Chappaqua.
Authorities said Sunday that Lanza shot his mother multiple times in the head at their home before heading to the school. The man then committed suicide by shooting himself before police closed in, authorities said Sunday.
Lanza used a high-powered rifle to kill his victims, including the principal, who tried to stop him.
In Harrison, Superintendent Louis Wool said he sees in his staff the same dedication to children that Katonah native Anne Marie Murphy showed Friday at Sandy Hook. The 52-year-old special education teacher's body was found covering those of children in her classroom, police told her parents.
"Amid a flurry of unanswerable questions, one observation has buoyed my spirit -- the compelling evidence of the profound love and commitment of every teacher, administrator and employee in the Sandy Hook school to protect their students," Wool wrote. "Their willingness to risk their lives is no surprise to me. Each day I walk our schools I see that same commitment and love for your children in the eyes of those charged with their care."
With The Associated Press