06/13/13 6:00am
06/13/2013 6:00 AM
ABC NEWS COURTESY PHOTO | A sign welcoming visitors to Sandy Hook Elementary School, the site of Friday's mass school shooting that left 26 people dead, including the suspected shooter.

ABC NEWS COURTESY PHOTO | A sign welcoming visitors to Sandy Hook Elementary School.

To the editor:

It’s been six months since 20 first-graders and six teachers were shot to death in Newtown, Conn. While there’s nothing we can do to guarantee a tragedy like this will not happen again, Congress decided to do nothing. In a few moments 26 died and our Congress decides to do nothing?

According to a tally of gun deaths from Slate, the number of people killed since the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary is now 4,499. The number of U.S. armed forces killed during the Iraq war was 4,409, according to the Defense Department.

Those who support the political idea that anyone and everyone should have unlimited access to as much firepower as they want have had their way. There’s something that can be done and the great majority of us know it. Let’s pass laws that will save the lives of schoolkids and countless others.

In another part of the country, it’s been 24 days since 10 children died in their school in Moore, Okla., from a tornado. After the horror, Gov. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma was asked, “Shouldn’t schools have storm shelters?” The governor refused to say it was time to get these school shelters built. The most she would say was, “We will have a discussion.”

Gov. Fallin is serving the political idea that government requirements to prevent the deaths of schoolchildren are wrong. Everyone knows that school storm shelters save lives and it’s the job of government to do it.

Let’s pass the laws that will save our kids.

Mort Cogen, Cutchogue

To read more letters to the editor, pick up a copy of this week’s Suffolk Times or click on the E-Paper.

04/13/13 7:00am
04/13/2013 7:00 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Joe and Roe Czaluda's memorial to the Sandy Hook victims on their front lawn on Sunrise Avenue in Riverhead.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Joe and Roe Czaluda’s memorial they created in December to the Sandy Hook victims on their front lawn on Sunrise Avenue in Riverhead.

Yes, it’s true: I’m a crybaby. I cry at movies (“Shane,” “Cast Away,” etc.), I cried for two weeks straight as an 11-year-old at summer camp and I cried again Sunday night as we were watching “60 Minutes.”

But I wasn’t the only one crying Sunday night. Many of those being interviewed by CBS News correspondent Scott Pelley were in tears, too. And for good reason.

They were the parents and loved ones of the students and teachers who were massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Friday, Dec. 14, 2012.

You remember Sandy Hook, don’t you? That’s no wisecrack; it’s a legitimate question as the days, weeks and months begin to pile up in the wake of yet another mass shooting for which our nation has become so well known.

And, as one of the Newtown parents so eloquently stated Sunday night, it will happen again, because it always happens again, particularly if the National Rifle Association has anything to say about it.

At this point in the discussion, I would like to yield the floor to my fellow columnist, Carl Hiaasen of the Miami (Fla.) Herald, who recently took to task the NRA in general, and its executive director, Wayne LaPierre, in particular, as follows:

“LaPierre insists that background checks will lead to a ‘national gun registry,’ which will then lead to mass confiscation of firearms by the government.

“Oh sure. The same government that can’t afford to deliver mail on Saturdays is poised to send armed agents to every single house in the country to search for weapons.

“The notion is ridiculous, and Wayne’s well aware of it. The NRA isn’t aiming for the mainstream support. The fringe is what they’re after — the spooked-out guys who were lining up to buy assault rifles after the mass shooting in Newtown.”

I know from reader comments on my previous columns in favor of more stringent gun control measures that I stand accused of belaboring the subject. And to that charge I plead guilty, and furthermore vow to keep writing about guns until we as a nation wake up to these inescapable truths:

• No one should be allowed to purchase a gun without undergoing a background check.

• No one but military or law enforcement personnel should be allowed to have an assault rifle.

• No one but military or law enforcement personnel should be allowed to have an ammunition clip that holds more than 10 rounds.

Period.

Word this week out of Washington is that an increasing number of our esteemed members of Congress are beginning to lose whatever resolve they may have had for meaningful gun control reform immediately following the Newtown tragedy. Apparently the NRA and Americans’ collective short memories are conspiring to prolong, once again, our national shame.

And to that reality I can think of no more powerful rejoinder than these exact words of Newtown parent David Wheeler on “60 Minutes” Sunday night:

“I would like every parent in this country — that’s 150 million people. I would like them to look in the mirror. And that’s not a figure of speech, Scott. I mean, literally, find a mirror in your house and look in it and look in your eyes and say, ‘This will never happen to me. This will never happen in my school. This will never happen in my community.’ And see if you actually believe that. And if there is a shadow, the slightest shadow of doubt about what you’ve said, think about what you can do to change that in your house, in your community, in your school, in your country, because we have an obligation to our children to do this for them. It’s gonna happen again. It is going to happen again. And every time, you know, it’s somebody else’s school, it’s somebody else’s town. It’s somebody else’s community until one day you wake up and it’s not.”

[email protected]

02/01/13 8:00am
02/01/2013 8:00 AM

Ten steps taken here since Newtown

Here’s a summary of what North Fork schools and the Southold Town Police Department have done since the Dec. 14 school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

1. Southold Town police officers are retaking active-shooter training.

2. All school floor plans can be accessed on patrol car computers.

3. The Greenport School District allocated $3,800 for additional security.

4. Oysterponds School hired a part-time security guard.

5. Visitors to Mattituck-Cutchogue schools must present a driver’s license.

6. New Suffolk School is installing an additional video camera.

7. The state mandated that districts post security plans online by Jan. 22.

8. Police and town officials are exploring a ‘rapid-response team.’

9. Schools are conducting evacuation and lockdown drills.

10. Police recommend that all schools install buzzer/camera security systems.

02/01/13 8:00am
KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO  |

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO |  North Fork schools have been enhancing their security systems and emergency plans over the past month following the shooting in Newton, Conn.

The door is locked.

You push a button, identify yourself through a video camera and you’re buzzed in. A greeter asks you to sign a book, put on a name tag and wait for an escort. In some cases, you’re asked to surrender your driver’s license. You’ll get it back when you leave.

For most people accustomed to visiting a North Fork school, this might seem like an unusual set of steps to gain entrance.

But this is the new reality.

This procedure has become the norm here since 27 people — including 20 children and the gunman — were killed Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

School districts have been enhancing their security systems and emergency plans over the past month, as they come into compliance with a new state mandate. On Jan. 15, the state gave schools seven days to post security plans on district websites. For protection, those postings don’t include certain details, such as building plans and hiding locations.

School officials aren’t the only ones gearing up to prevent potential tragedy.

During an interview with The Suffolk Times Friday, Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley said photos and maps of school grounds have been uploaded to computers in each patrol car and officers are visiting schools to become more familiar with their layouts.

“Most of the officers here have kids in school, so they are just as concerned as every other parent,” he said.

Related: 10 steps taken to secure North Fork schools

Related: Rising to the challenge

Chief Flatley said he believes it’s important for schools to narrow access points down to one entrance and monitor visitors through buzzer and camera systems. He also warned that many school shootings have involved someone who “has been associated with the school or a student themselves.”

“The illusion that it’s a guy walking up to the door with a trench coat and a machine gun underneath with a black hat on is not the case,” he said.

The districts have begun to come into compliance with the new state mandate, though some school boards have not yet met to approve their plans.

The Southold Board of Education unanimously approved its district-level security plan last Wednesday night.

GIANNA VOLPE PHOTO  |  Mattituck High School security guard Gary Spath secures the doors after school Tuesday.

GIANNA VOLPE PHOTO | Mattituck High School security guard Gary Spath secures the doors after school Monday.

During the board’s regular meeting, member Scott DeSimone questioned the state mandate and described it as “ridiculous.”

“It makes them look like they are doing their jobs by making us put something up [online],” he said.

Board president Paulette Ofrias described the district plan as a template the board received from BOCES. It was posted online last Thursday.

About a week after the Newtown shooting, the Southold board approved funding to install new locking safety doors at the elementary school.

Most school districts already have buzzer systems in place and many are adding video cameras.

New Suffolk school officials said that while there are cameras outside the tiny district’s one building on Fourth Street, another camera will be added to the exterior of the main entrance. It currently has a peephole in the door.

New Suffolk board president Tony Dill said the district also has an intercom system at the entrance and the school secretary’s desk is located in the main lobby, where she can monitor visitors.

“When we put the camera system in, we didn’t include that area because we concentrated on areas where you couldn’t see,” Mr. Dill said. “The biggest advantage we have is that there’s only two doors into the place, so that we don’t have multiple entrances and exits we have to monitor. Our problems are far, far simpler than would normally be the case with other schools and other districts.”

Greenport has allocated $3,800 to improve its security system with new video cameras and two five-inch video monitors visible to main office personnel.

In addition, the district is in the process of replacing its handheld walkie-talkie radios with either shoulder or earpiece radio sets for audio quality reasons.

Substitute teacher Frank Musto is volunteering his time to help keep Greenport students safe by monitoring each person entering the school. He’s working with school officials to develop a volunteer security program and hopes other community members donate a few hours to the cause.

Chief Flatley said he liked Mr. Musto’s idea and believes it could work because many retired police officers reside in town.

“For somebody like that to step up, I think it’s great,” the chief said.

At the Mattituck-Cutchogue School District, which has a part-time security guard in each of its two buildings, officials said they’re in the process of getting quotes to install a buzzer and camera system.

High school principal Shawn Petretti said during a Jan. 17 board meeting that some offices along the main lobby have been rearranged to improve hallway visibility.

The district is also requiring visitors to surrender their driver’s licenses. The thought is to encourage visitors to exit via the main entrance, Mr. Petretti said.

All exterior doors are locked during the school day. New signs have also been added to each door that read: “Do not open this door during school hours for anyone.”

“Schools were designed to educate kids and not be fortresses,” Mr. Petretti said. “Typically, if an adult knocks on a door and asks ‘Can you open the door for me?’ students are going to comply because that’s how they were brought up.”

The Oysterponds School in Orient installed a buzzer and camera system at its main entrance this summer and hired Jacob Bogden as a part-time security guard. Mr. Bogden is a seasonal town police officer.

During the Oysterponds school board’s Jan. 15 meeting, Superintendent Dick Malone said the position is needed to make sure visitors sign in upon entering the building.

“Although everyone knows each other, this sets a serious tone that there needs to be a tightening of who’s entering and leaving,” he said.

None of the security guards at North Fork schools is armed.

Some parents have called on school districts to hire armed security since 20-year-old Adam Lanza blasted his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School with a .223-caliber rifle and caused the second-deadliest school shooting in the nation’s history.

Chief Flatley said that although he’s heard some school board members and residents push for armed security, he doesn’t believe it’s a solution.

“I’d rather see the schools spend their time and effort on controlling access points with cameras on the outside and making sure only certain people are admitted,” he said.

The chief said he disagrees with the National Rifle Association’s call for Congress to fund armed officers in every American school, describing the measure as impractical.

“We don’t have the manpower to put an officer in every school and I don’t think the schools have the resources or the money to hire armed security guards,” he said.

Anti-gun advocates have said adding armed security isn’t the answer since an armed sheriff’s deputy was assigned to Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., the day of the 1999 massacre there, which left 15 people dead — including 12 students, a teacher and both gunmen, who committed suicide after a rampage lasting nearly 22 minutes. Similarly, Virginia Tech’s police force was unable to stop the violence in 2007, when a gunman killed 32 people and himself on the Blacksburg, Va., campus.

“They had armed security and it still happened,” Chief Flatley said of both incidents. “Having armed security, obviously, is better than not having someone there, but it’s certainly not going to be a fail-safe way of securing the school.”

Since the tragedy at Columbine, the chief said, all town police officers have undergone “active shooter” training, which teaches officers how to identify where a threat is, how to enter a school through tactical formations and how to clear rooms. It also offers instruction on how officers can protect themselves with a shield.

The town police department has arranged additional active-shooter training sessions, which are scheduled to begin next month. All local school districts have agreed to allow police to practice at their facilities after school hours.

While Chief Flatley stressed the best way to handle a school shooting is through proactive measures like implementing new security, practicing evaluation and lockdown drills and providing additional active-shooter training to police officers, he said his department is thinking about creating a “rapid-response team.”

This team would be trained in tactical situations for which heavy artillery is required, he said.

Southold currently uses Suffolk County Police Department’s SWAT services in those situations, as well as sharing its homicide and aviation services.

The chief said the idea of creating a local rapid-response team grew out of concern about the time it could take the county police department in Yaphank to respond to a shooting on the North Fork.

“No matter how you look at it, the response time is going to be delayed,” he said. “Would I like to have my own emergency services? I would love to have it but, feasibly, how often would we use it? The amount of training, the amount of manpower to staff it, the type of equipment you need; that’s why we have the shared services with the Suffolk County Police Department.”

Supervisor Scott Russell described creating a rapid-response team as an “excellent idea” and said the police department would have to submit a proposal to the Town Board.

“Obviously, when you live geographically isolated like we do, that’s always going to be a concern,” the supervisor said. “But I have a great deal of confidence in the local police department and if there’s a concern regarding response time from county services, then maybe we should just look at creating a solution locally.”

Chief Flatley said even if the department creates a rapid-response team, he believes it won’t take the place of active-shooter training since it’s the officers on patrol who will respond first to a shooting.

School districts practicing evacuations and lockdowns are also important and recent drills have gone well. If such procedures are ever needed in an emergency, Chief Flatley said they won’t be difficult to execute because it has become “second nature” for parents and teachers.

During lockdown drills, he said, teachers and students practice getting out of hallways and into classrooms to stay out of view of someone walking down the hallway.

“They’ve all been instructed to lock their doors and look out only at certain angles,” the chief said. “They all have good hiding locations. The kids know where they are supposed to go.”

[email protected]

02/01/13 8:00am
KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO

The North Fork was “discovered” some time ago, and people from elsewhere, especially those with young families, came east in search of a better — read quieter and decidedly non-urban or suburban — lifestyle. In response, the Mattituck-Cutchogue and Southold school districts, with two of the town’s three high schools, completed large and expensive building projects to provide new space for new students.

Although several school campuses now bear little resemblance to what they were 15 years ago, our districts are still small. Just the way we like them.

Imagine, then, what must have been going through the minds of school administrators and parents in, say, New Suffolk, a close-knit community proud of the education it offers in the century-old little red schoolhouse on the hill, when faced with the horrific slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. It’s all but impossible to believe that people in such a charming local seaside village would be forced to react to the shootings. But react they did, as did each of our other four school systems.

Video surveillance systems, new security doors and new security personnel have been added to each school day.

Unfortunate, yes, but unfortunately unavoidable.

We doubt many, if any, of those who escaped to Southold believe that such tragedies couldn’t happen here. No textbooks exist to guide school officials on how to avoid overreacting to or ignoring them. But we believe our school boards rose to the challenge calmly yet with purpose and determination, each striving to strike a balance to improve student safety and security without creating walled fortresses.

Let’s not kid ourselves that these most recent security upgrades offer a 100 percent guarantee. There is no such thing — in either New Suffolk or Newtown or Washington, D.C. But our schools did what they could as quickly as they could. And for that they deserve our thanks and praise.

12/20/12 6:00am
12/20/2012 6:00 AM

ABC NEWS COURTESY PHOTO | A sign welcoming visitors to Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Suddenly, all the hoopla about the upcoming special election to fill the North Fork’s vacant seat in the county Legislature seems a petty, meaningless distraction.

As interesting as an out-of-season political fight may be, it means absolutely nothing compared to the slaughter of innocents in a Connecticut school in a small town that has a pre-Revolutionary past, as does Southold, with a population not much bigger than Southold’s.

For many, the school shootings at Columbine and Virginia Tech might as well have occurred on the other side of the globe. Nothing like that could ever take place in our little, safe corner of the world, right? The folly of such thinking became all too clear when the unthinkable took place in another seemingly little, safe community.

Gone in the blink of an eye was any false sense of security. If it happened there, it could happen here. The enormous — and as yet unanswered — question is why?

Much of the public dialogue since the shootings has centered on the weapons involved. That topic certainly dominates these pages this week.

Beyond the gun control debate, we’re left with trying to understand what would drive someone to perform such a heinous act. We’re led to believe the young man had mental issues. Many Americans do, but they don’t pick up an assault rifle and open fire on school staff and students as young as six. That question cannot go unanswered, just as the gun control issue cannot be placed back on the shelf until the next mass murder.

Even the National Rifle Association, the national symbol of legal gun ownership, recognizes this. In a statement on the Newtown shootings released Tuesday afternoon, NRA leaders said they’re prepared “to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again.” Those “contributions” are to be identified during a Friday, Dec. 21, press conference.

We hope the NRA is serious this time, but let’s not kid ourselves, The sad reality is America is full of guns, and a constitutional amendment might do little to change that, particularly in the short term. Prohibition didn’t work, nor has the multitude of legislative efforts at drug control. Still, raising the Constitution in every gun ownership discussion is a smokescreen. Remember, the Constitution also permitted slave ownership — that is, until the people rose up to abolish it. Given the fearsome lethality of assault weapons, there’s no legitimate reason for any civilian to own one. To argue otherwise is akin to saying that since a pilot can legally purchase a Piper Cub, there should be no prohibition against acquiring a fully armed surplus Eastern Bloc MIG fighter.

The only acceptable response to the Newtown madness is to put aside emotion and embrace logic and common sense.

Don’t affix blame, fix the problem.