Back to School: Are Our Students Safe?

By Barbara Pierce

Some schools, like in Little Falls, have become like a small fortress. All classrooms are locked once students are in the room, all windows are shut and access from outsiders is limited

Parents in Texas are coming to terms with the fact they will never hug their children again after a shooter stormed Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, killing 19 children and two teachers.

Mass shootings have been on the increase since the pandemic. There’s been one mass shooting in every week of 2022, according to news reports. 

A school shooting could happen anywhere, even right here in the Mohawk Valley. It raises questions about the safety of our schools.

We reached out to several local schools to ask how they will keep our kids safe as they return to school. 

“We have to be on guard every minute,” said Keith Levatino, superintendent of schools at Little Falls City School District and safety officer for the district. 

“We’re always in a lockdown; I mandate this,” he said. “All exit doors are locked at all times. All classroom doors are locked once the students and teacher are in the room. Visitors have no access into the school, unless it’s through an administrator. Visitors come into an entrance and are buzzed into a vestibule, where staff asks their purpose and reviews their ID. They wait in the vestibule.”

Levatino said that if a shooter gets in, he or she won’t get into the classrooms. All exterior windows are closed and locked. That is why inspection by an expert commercial locksmith is essential to ensure that windows and locks are in perfect condition.

“During the school day, a safety officer is in the building and police cars parked outside. For after school or evening events, I’ve mandated police protection.”

Levatino has had extensive training and has always worked closely with law enforcement, he said. He established a safety team that created the district’s current safety plan, which is posted on the school’s website.

“My primary goal was safety for all, 24/7,” he added. “What I mean by safety is not just feeling physically safe, but emotionally safe. Physical and emotional safety for everyone: students, faculty, staff, and visitors.”

Teachers are trained every year on safety protocol, with drills. 

“We’ve done everything possible to make sure the kids are safe,” he concluded.

Superintendent Christopher DiFulvio, Cazenovia Central School District, told In Good Health: “Our district has regular processes in place to review our safety measures. We work regularly with our local police, county sheriff, state troopers and other first responders to review our practices.”

This year, the Cazenovia Central School District added two school resource officers through the Madison County grant funded program that Sheriff Todd Hood has championed.

“Also, we have increased our mental health services and staffing here this year,” DiFulvio added. “We’re working closely with the county and now host 12 month licensed mental health services for our students,” he added.

Superintendent Jason Mitchell, Madison Central School, said: “We regularly review our safety procedures to make sure we’re doing all we can to keep our faculty, staff and students safe.”

“The events in Uvalde were not the determining factor, but were a factor in our decision to add a school resource officer beginning this school year.

“Recently passed Alyssa’s Law requires schools to consider installing panic buttons in the building. We will consider doing so.”

“We have a monitored, single and contained point of entry where visitors are required to sign in before entering the building. Faculty and staff are present in the hallways and throughout the building and monitor entrances. We have some bullet-resistant glass throughout the building. Emergency plans, drills, including for our buses, are reviewed and practiced with faculty, staff and students.”

We asked the superintendents their opinion of the law recently signed by the governor of Ohio that allows teachers to bring firearms into their classrooms with minimal training. The state loosened several gun laws in 2022 amid nationwide calls to enact stricter rules to curb gun violence, including a law that removes training and background checks for concealed carry holders. 

“I prefer not to comment on Ohio at this time,” DiFulvio said. “If New York adopts similar legislation down the road, I’d be happy to chat with you.”

Levatino also declined comment on the Ohio law. “It’s hard to put myself in their shoes. If that happened in New York, there would have to be a lot of discussion about training; it’s hard to put myself in that situation.”

Public opinion is mostly negative toward the new Ohio law, according to news reports; parents and other experts say putting guns in the hands of people who aren’t adequately trained is dangerous and irresponsible and makes students less safe.