On Sept. 24, 1986, a student at Red Hook High School, went to school with a shotgun looking for one of her teachers. When she could not find the teacher, the student, identified by authorities as Patricia Holt, wandered through the halls until another teacher realized what was happening and subdued her. No one was hurt and Holt was taken out of the building in handcuffs.
At the time, 13 years before Columbine, nobody anticipated that such an incident would be possible.
Then, just over three years ago, an armed man entered Stissing Mountain Middle/High School in Pine Plains and took the middle school principal hostage. According to news reports, the man was taken into custody two hours later and no one was hurt.
Today, in the aftermath of the Newtown school massacre, almost everyone, from students to school staff, is asking, “Can we prevent this from happening here?”
In an attempt to give an answer, Red Hook Central School District Superintendent Paul Finch has issued a security update, to make parents and the community aware of what has been accomplished and what he hopes will be accomplished within the next few weeks to ensure school safety.
To begin with, the school district has appointed former Red Hook police chief Jim Truitt as a security consultant for all the schools. In addition, each building principal has completed a security audit, which was then presented to the Board of Education.
While some future plans will not be made public for security reasons, the strategy in general is highlighted by an enhanced police presence within the school buildings.
The Board of Education has approved a contract with village police for school resource services of 20 hours per week, up from the original 8 hours, retroactive to Jan. 1. The officers will rotate through the school buildings. Finch said that he authorized the additional hours to reassure students, staff, and parents. The agreement pays the police department $50 per hour.
“One of the goals is high visibility,” Finch said. “You want to make sure people know [the officers] are around.”
In addition, he added, “within the next year there will be an enhanced, district-wide surveillance system… a significant number of classroom locks to allow for faster reaction time in the event of an incident… and advanced staff training to better delay or defeat an intruder.”
The district will also begin a process of more effectively securing the buildings during arrival and dismissal times. This will involve a single point overseen by both technology and a greeter who will watch the doors. Staff (including substitutes) will be trained in intruder detention and delay and updated lock-down procedures, Finch said.
The school board is considering paying for the security improvements with leftover funds from construction projects that have been completed under budget. The amounts involved have yet to be determined.