Several concerned parents spoke at Tuesday night’s Greenport school board meeting, asking for greater communication from the district in the wake of the arrest of a Greenport student in last Tuesday’s Southold shooting.
Superintendent David Gamberg said he agreed that school security would need to be improved, though he noted that the incident occurred off school grounds.
But it was a student who stood up at the meeting and told the audience that he and his classmates are often warned about the dangers of gangs and that parents shouldn’t fear for their safety.
“The teachers that we have, we talk about things like this. We talk about how there are ways out of gangs,” said David Krumenacker, the high school student council vice president. “To think that the school isn’t safe just because this occurred isn’t true.”
More than a dozen other high school students, who attended the meeting to voice support for a senior class trip, applauded after he spoke.
Responding to parents, Mr. Gamberg said the district had to “guard against the kind of behaviors that might lean towards being illegal and just being watchful for things that aren’t helpful.”
He noted that it wasn’t just gangs, but also drug abuse and other serious problems that teachers know to look out for.
Mr. Gamberg said he has personal experience dealing with at-risk youth, and told the crowd he had worked as a teacher in a prison for four years and has seen what happens to children who “unfortunately succumbed to that lifestyle.”
Still, parents asked why there hadn’t been a statement from the school notifying residents of what occurred in Southold last week.
Others asked if the district had bilingual teachers who were trained to be on the lookout for gang activity; the student allegedly involved in last week’s shooting is accused of being a member of MS-13, a Hispanic street gang.
Mr. Gamberg said the school does have bilingual teachers, but that gangs are not just a Hispanic phenomenon.
“The issue of involvement in gangs can transcend race and culture and ethnicity,” he said. “It’s very important to remember that. It’s not just the Spanish-speaking population, though I understand why that’s being talked about in this particular case.”
He said the district is working with police investigators and would also try to have lecturers come in to speak with teachers about ways to find out if students are joining gangs.
He told The Suffolk Times that the district’s biggest tool was the close relationships between students and the teachers who can mentor them.
“We’re considerably smaller than Riverhead and other districts,” he said. “And the kind of relationships students have with teachers are the best asset to ward off [gang involvement].”