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School security targeted at Indian River district in aftermath of recent lockdown, Nevada shooting

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Public scrutiny about security in the Indian River School District has been dialed up following a recent threat made by a Fort Drum soldier that led to a districtwide building lockdown Wednesday, Oct. 16.

On the heels of that incident, which led to the felony arrest of 22-year-old Caleb J. Larson, was a shooting that made national news Monday morning in which a 12-year-old shot and killed a math teacher at a middle school in Sparks, Nev.

But district officials, who addressed public concerns after the Sandy Hook school massacre in December, said they’re prepared to tackle safety concerns head on.

The 45-minute lockdown at Indian River’s eight buildings could have been avoided, officials said, if the threat had been reported to police after it actually occurred — four days earlier, on a Saturday. Sheriff’s Deputy Carrie A. Mangino, the school resource officer for the district, and Superintendent James Kettrick led the response to the perceived threat. They decided to take swift action based on limited information initially reported.

Because schools were closed Monday and Tuesday, a cafeteria worker who heard about the threat during the weekend didn’t report it until about 8:40 a.m. Wednesday at Evans Mills Primary School. The threat by Mr. Larson, who was charged with a Class D felony, allegedly was made Saturday to a parent with children who attend the Evans Mills school.

But officials, who didn’t have that information at the time, ordered all eight schools locked down within a matter of minutes. Police from multiple agencies responded at each location. Though there was no apparent imminent threat to the school, limited-access-to-buildings procedures were instituted throughout the day.

“I didn’t have a whole lot of information to start with, and, thankfully, it wasn’t an in-progress situation,” Ms. Mangino said. “My first priority is to make sure students are safe, even if that means the whole district is shut down in a preemptive manner.”

The lockdown would have been prevented, Ms. Mangino said, if authorities had been notified about the threat earlier. During classroom presentations, Ms. Mangino talks to students about the importance of reporting dangerous threats to authorities immediately.

“Knowing that the threat was made days prior, we could have had this managed before it became a schoolwide situation,” she said. “Unfortunately, no one said anything until the morning on the first day back to school.”

She continued, “Every time there’s any mass casualty (in the news), people take that to heart, as they should, and automatically start putting their lives in perspective. But the important part about that is everyone needs to stay vigilant.”

The number one safety concern expressed among teachers at the district is the amount of time it takes to lock classroom doors with keys, said Ms. Mangino, who oversees lockdown drills at schools periodically.

“Having an easy-to-use locking mechanism on door handles, and the ability to lock off certain hallways through fire doors, are improvements that could make a huge difference,” she said.

The Nevada shooting on Monday, coupled with last week’s lockdown, is expected to cause a heightened level of concern among parents of students and staff about the security policy at the district, Mr. Kettrick said. The Board of Education plans to bolster security at all eight of its schools as part of its capital campaign to be considered by voters during the annual school district budget vote in May. The board has considered upgrading classroom doors to feature automated locking devices that allow quick access. The specifics of that security plan, including funding, have yet to be determined.

The latest shooting in Nevada “simply reinforces the concerns that everyone has — parents, faculty, administrators and support staff — to make sure we’re all safe in schools,” Mr. Kettrick said.

At a Watertown City School Board meeting Tuesday, Superintendent Terry N. Fralick said that while the events in Nevada have given him pause, he is confident that the security measures the district put into place after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., last December will keep students and staff safe.

“We’ve addressed everything we can up to now, based on what happened in Connecticut,” Mr. Fralick said. “We can never be totally sure that we’ve addressed everything, but we’ve taken steps to address what we can.”

“I don’t think we’ve learned anything new” from what happened in Nevada, he said.

Watertown School Board President Cynthia H. Bufalini echoed his comments.

“We have protocols we follow. We’re all prepared to handle an emergency,” she said.

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