Parents and school staff in Queens Monday morning wanted to talk about anything other than Friday’s mass shooting at a Newtown, Conn. elementary school that left more than two dozen people, including 20 children, dead.
60 miles southwest of the site of one of the worst school shootings in American history, moms, dads, teachers and principals are trying to wander through the minefield of what to tell schoolchildren about the tragedy that ended the lives of so many their age.
“I really don’t want to focus on it,” one PTA president said in an email in response to a request for comment. “It’s too heartbreaking. I really have nothing to say right now. I guess we’ll have to deal with it as it comes up.”
Another PTA member suggested covering the story only made it more likely it would happen again.
“The more you see it on the television and in the newspapers, the more another crazy person thinks it’s worth doing,” she said. “I don’t want to be disrespectful, but we should stop glamorizing it.”
Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott sent out a message to Department of Education staff Friday afternoon, only hours after the shooting.
“In the wake of such an event, you and members of your school community may be faced with questions about your own safety,” the letter said. “We have been in constant communication with the NYPD and their School Safety Division, whose vigilance keeps our schools safe. I know that each of you has done a lot to prepare your Building Response Team to work with first responders in the event of an emergency. I encourage you to guide your staff and students in maintaining your school’s regular schedule and continuing to be sensitive to the needs of your students as they learn more about this loss. Crisis intervention resources and support strategies are posted on the Youth Development page on the Principals’ Portal, and your network is available to support you if you need additional assistance.”
Walcott, joined by Michael Mulgrew and Ernest Logan, presidents of the teachers’ and administrators’ unions respectively, sent a letter to school officials on Monday reiterating safety procedures and instructing teachers on what to do with students who are affected by the tragedy.
In the meantime, the borough’s elected officials are pondering potential security changes in city schools.
Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) made a rather controversial suggestion that the massacre could have been prevented if one of the teachers had a gun.
“One armed teacher could have prevented this tragedy, but not in a ‘Gun Free School Zone,’” he said on Facebook over the weekend.
The suggestion was met with mixed reaction on his Facebook page, with some supporting the idea and others vehemently opposed.
Though not going as far as arming teachers, Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) said he would reintroduce his 2010 bill calling for the city to provide security for the roughly 900 private schools that are not entitled to school safety officers. Those include religious and charter schools.
“We already provide nurses because we understand the health of students is important,” he explained. “Security should be a priority for all schools.”
Vallone noted that the bill would require hiring more school safety officers and would likely cost the city more, but he noted that there are other options besides manpower, including security cameras.
Vallone also mulled the possibility of arming security officers in public and private schools, saying the idea warranted “a valid discussion.”
“In my mind, there should a police officer or specially trained security officer in the school,” he said. “Many schools in the country have armed guards. That could be a suggestion worth looking at.”
A parent of daughters in college and high school, Vallone said the school shootings have left parents concerned about their children’s safety.
“We send our little angels to school for eight hours a day; we want them to be safe there,” he said.