The Pearl River School District began reviewing security policies after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT last month, but Superintendent of Schools Dr. John Morgano said that secruity alone will not prevent gun violence in schools.
"It's a multi-faceted problem," Morgano said. "You have to deal with the guns. You have to deal with mental health and deal with security. If you think we can deal with security alone and ignore the other factors, you are living in a dream world."
Morgano is a member of the Lower Hudson Council of School Superintendents, which sent out a letter in late December calling for "immediate and bold action by state and federal legislators to end gun violence in our schools and communities."
The council represents superintendents from 78 school districts including Clarkstown, Nyack, South Orangetown and Nanuet. The full letter is attached to this report. It calls for specific responses that take into account the issues of gun control, mental health and school security.
The proposals in the letter are as follows:
- Provide funding to schools and communities for adequate mental health, social, and guidance services and resources for the purpose of prevention, support, and response;
- Restore community funding for youth and school resource officers for stronger school community partnerships;
- Prevent individuals convicted of violent crimes – misdemeanors or felonies – even when these were committed when they were juveniles, from being able to purchase or own a gun (Brady Bill - Section 922N);
- Prevent individuals with mental health issues from purchasing or owning a gun (Brady Bill - Section 922N)
- Reinstitute the ban on the sale, import, transfer, and ownership of assault weapons; (Semi-automatic firearms that the state has classified as assault weapons, .50 BMG caliber rifles, and magazines that can hold more than ten rounds of ammunition may not be sold in California. Possession of automatic firearms, and of short-barreled shotguns and rifles, is generally prohibited.)
- End the Gun Show loophole that enables 40% of gun purchases to be made without a background check;
- Punish irresponsible gun dealers (Dealers may not sell any new handgun unless it is listed in the state Department of Justice roster of handguns certified for sale. Listed handguns must include certain mechanical features and pass a set of laboratory tests).
Orangetown Police Chief Kevin Nulty recently spoke about funding that used to be in place to pay for officers in school buildings.
"We used to have a school resource officer in the high school provided by the Orangetown Police Department, paid for by a grant from the state," Morgano said. "That grant disappeared, so did the resource officer. We would have to pay for it and we simply don't have the funds. We're going to be short in the budget for 2013-14, which will no doubt require some staff cuts. I don't think we're going to fire teachers to hire police officers.
"(Orangetown Police) don't have the officer to spare. They don't have the money for it. I understand that."
Morgano also pointed to a position statement published Dec. 19, 2012 by the Interdisciplinary Group on Preventing School and Community Violence, which also calls for change balanced approach to dealing with the threat of gun violence in schools.
"It is signed by predominant educators," Morgano said. "They really speak to cautioning about buying into security in schools and making schools into fortresses. They had security in Newtown. They had a buzzer system. The guy shot his way through the door."
Not that Morgano is dismissing improved security. Pearl River administrators will meet again Monday, with a representative from the Orangetown Police Department. Districts all over Rockland County and the rest of the United States are revisiting security in light of the Newtown shootings.
For example, in Pearl River, the doors to all three elementary schools and Pearl River Middle School remain locked during the school day.
"We're looking at a buzzer system for elementary and middle school buildings," Morgano said. "There is a price tag for that, but we have some grant money we can look at for it. We have to make sure what we have in place is as efficient as possible."
The issue of automatic weapons is also a key focus in the superintendents' letter because they make it easier to kill a larger number of people in a short time.
"I feel strongly about getting rid of machine guns," Morgano said. "I was a hunter for 16 years. I'm not a person who has never shot a gun or has an issue with owning guns, but there is no reason whatsoever for anyone to own a machine gun. There is no legitimate reason to own a gun that shoots 100 rounds a minute. Every one of these crimes, Columbine, the movie theater in Colorado, all have been done with these automatic weapons.
"Our current president is not too adamant about the need to restrict them. I heard on the news they are hoping within a year to get legislation. They need legislation within a week. I don't know why it takes so long to outlaw guns used to murder people."
Morgano said it is important to put funding back into mental health treatments. The primary focus in the letter is the focus on keeping guns out of the hands of people with mental health issues.
He was critical of the National Rifle Association's response to the shootings in Newtown.
"The NRA's answer is their usual response," Morgano said. "Put armed guards in the schools. Blame (President Barack) Obama. Blame video games. Blame everything but the guns."
Editor's Note: The letter was sent December 20.