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At task force meeting, teachers suggest practical ways to improve school security

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media
From left to right, Onondaga County Sheriff Gene Conway, Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh, Onondaga County District Attorney Bill Fitzpatrick, SUNY Oswego professor Jaclyn Schildkraut.

A school safety task force met in Syracuse recently to discuss procedures that can prevent or reduce the damage of a school shooting. Teachers and students want to know how safety in schools can be improved immediately, before a longer list of recommendations is made in August.

Elana Stroman, a teacher at Huntington PreK-8 School in Syracuse, said giving substitute teachers keys to classrooms is one short-term action to tighten security.

“It’s a building and grounds responsibility and it’s something that people didn’t think about," Stroman said. "They didn’t think when we call lockdown, the substitute teachers don’t have a key to lock those doors.”

Stroman said she also wants rubber wedge stoppers to barricade doors because most of the classroom doors in Syracuse have to be opened to lock them from the outside.

Jaclyn Schildkraut, an assistant professor of public justice at SUNY Oswego, said that was the problem during the Sandy Hook school shooting. 911 dispatchers told teachers to just lock their doors, but teachers were too afraid to open their doors to lock them, because the shooter was out there. 

“By doing that, you’re creating the opportunity for the perpetrator to come into your classroom," Schildkraut said. "Having doors that you can lock very quickly from the inside, potentially that don’t even need keys, that’s something that is a quick fix, easy, very cost-effective.”

Schildkraut said research shows being behind a locked door in a shooter situation is very effective.

"When these perpetrators are committing these acts, they want very easy targets," Schildkraut said. "They want somebody they have direct access to, that's not going to put up much of a fight, that's not going to make it more difficult for them. What we can do as a society is put those obstacles in their way to make it more difficult."

Onondaga County District Attorney Bill Fitzpatrick said schools can choose to adopt the task force's final report if they wish, but it will not be made public, so as to give a blueprint on how to attack schools.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.