SARATOGA SPRINGS – One of the after-effects of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida is the staggering increase of school-based threats and incidents since the tragedy occurred.
Research conducted by Educator's School Safety Network - a not-for-profit organization dedicated to empowering educators with education-based school safety training and resources - typically finds approximately 10 school-based threats and incidents occur daily. Since Feb. 15, the organization says those numbers have spiked to more than 70 per day - the majority involving gun threats and the most common method of threat delivery being via social media.
Even before the events in Florida, the data specifically pointed to New York State as having experienced a dramatic increase in the number of threats and/or incidents during the first half of the 2017-2018 school year – up by 33.3 percent over the previous year – and ranking third nationally, behind only California and Pennsylvania as a “state of concern.”
The Florida incident has demonstrated substantially longer staying power in the public consciousness than displayed in the aftermath of previous incidents, says Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo,
“This has really hit home, across the country and locally,” Zurlo says. “It’s been two weeks since Florida and usually when something happens (the attention) goes a day or two after and then everybody gets back to their normal business. But this has absolutely lasted longer than other instances. I’m getting calls and emails from parents who are asking: What do we do? How are you going to protect our kids?”
Saratoga County is home nearly 220,000 residents. There are 51 public schools, 33,000 students, 2,500 teachers and approximately 100 principals across the 815 square miles of the county.
“We’re doing a little bit of everything. I have a team of four deputies assigned to schools throughout the county who interact with students and touch base with the principals and superintendents,” Zurlo explained. “What I’ve also done now is, during day-shift and afternoon patrols, we’ll get out and do a walk-through at schools. In the mornings, when classes start, I’ve had patrols at the schools. And we’re going to continue having that presence.”
In Saratoga Springs, city police regularly conduct active shooter trainings. The department also has a school resource officer assigned to the Saratoga Springs School District.
Not all county schools have assigned SRO’s, however, and conversations have recently been initiated about the feasibility of making that happen.
“I’ve been approached by three (public) schools in the county that want more information about School Resource Officers, who do not currently have them. I’m also talking to county officials to see if we can come up with a plan for the school year, starting next year,” Zurlo said. “We’re in preliminary talks. It all comes down to money and we’re trying to work some different things out.” The amount of time involved in training practice would also play a role in the potential implementation of such a practice, he added.
On Feb. 26, the county Sheriff’s Department responded to a threatening text message allegedly made by a 14-year-old student at Corinth High School directed at a 13-year-old student as well as the school, and involved the threatened use of a firearm. The suspected author of the threat was subsequently charged with making a terroristic threat, and aggravated harassment and referred to Saratoga County Family Court for further action, according to authorities.
“These threats need to be looked into and I take them seriously. It’s our job to make sure the students and staff are well protected. If these threats are criminal in nature, then these people are going to be arrested,” Zurlo said.
Earlier this week, city School District Superintendent of Schools Michael Patton penned a letter to school parents to reassure them that protocols are in place.
“Safety is an underlying theme in everything we do (and) we have continued to make improvements over the past several years,” Patton said.
Some of those improvements include having retired and current law enforcement on staff and surveillance cameras at all school buildings, secured entryways with double locked doors, ongoing training with district and school emergency response teams, and lockdown, lockout, shelter in place, and evacuation and relocation drills.
The Saratoga Springs City School District consists of 11 facilities in and around Saratoga Springs, including the high school, the middle school and six elementary schools. Building Emergency Response Teams are also assigned to each of the district’s buildings.
School Shooting Can’t Happen Here? It Already Has
Shortly before noon on a Friday in December 1975, 32-year-old George McCode fired four shots from his 22-cal. handgun into the playground at St. Peter’s Elementary School.
McCode, who a month earlier received an honorable discharge from the U.S. Navy, lived in the Gaslight apartment complex directly across the street from the playground.
Two 7-year-old girls were injured as a result of the gunfire; one was brought to Saratoga Hospital to remove a bullet from the heel of her foot, and the second wounded from a ricochet bullet which caught her in one of her feet.
Local Students May Take Part in National School Walkout on March 14
In response to gun violence and in the aftermath of the Feb. 14 Florida shooting, a 17-minute-long national school walkout effort initiated by Women's March Youth EMPOWER is slated to take place at 10 a.m. on March 14.
This week, Skidmore College issued a statement asserting that it values freedom of expression and encourages civic engagement and promised students they would not face any disciplinary action from the college should they choose to participate in a peaceful protest.
The Saratoga Springs School District is currently formulating a strategy regarding students who choose to participate in the March 14 walkout.
“We met this week with leaders of student government and we’re starting to develop a plan,” said Michael Patton, Saratoga Springs City School District Superintendent of Schools. “We think it’s an opportunity for students to be involved in civic engagement and that it’s a teachable moment, not anything politically, but something done respectfully and in a safe and orderly manner.”