SL school district reviews security measures

SARANAC LAKE – Saranac Lake Central School District officials are talking about ways to tighten security in the wake of last month’s school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

Meanwhile, a Saranac Lake High School senior who grew up in Newtown wants district administrators to shore up what she described as lax security at the high school.

“I can get in the high school through six different doors any time of the day,” Julia Murray, who’s one of two student representatives on the school board, said at Wednesday night’s board meeting. “There’s some very simple precautions that I think not only the high school but all schools can take.”

Murray was born in Newtown and lived there until she was 10 years old when she moved with her family to Saranac Lake. She didn’t attend Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School, where a gunman killed 20 children and six adults on Dec. 14., but her grandmother worked at the school for 20 years before retiring.

“They knew the teachers and the principal (who were killed),” Murray told the Enterprise after Wednesday’s meeting. “It hit us hard because it’s our hometown. It was hard to actually comprehend that it happened.”

The school board’s discussion about security was prompted by a report from board member Miles Van Nortwick about a Safety Committee meeting that took place four days after the Newtown shooting. In addition to administrators and school staff, Van Nortwick said it was attended retired state Supreme Court Justice Jan Plumadore and Bob Sior, who works in security for the state court system.

“He gave us some ideas,” Van Nortwick said. “He made himself available to do a walk-through of our various buildings to make suggestions.”

High School Principal Bruce Van Weelden said village and state police have each done walk-throughs of his building in the last few weeks.

“We have another meeting (about security) coming up,” said Superintendent Gerald Goldman. “I think we’ll come out of that meeting with a little more focus, and I think we’ll take some steps forward together on what our priorities are.

“We have some obvious things that we need to do at the high school. We have some things we need to do at Bloomingdale (Elementary). I don’t want to talk about them here at the meeting because I don’t necessarily want those things out there.”

Goldman said beefing up security at the high schools can be a challenge because of the need to balance “the fact that we’re running a school, not a prison, with the need to make our students and staff safe. We certainly can make the high school more secure. We can make it as secure as Ray Brook if you want to spend that kind of money, but it’s not going to resemble a high school after that.”

Apart from improving security precautions, Goldman also said people need to be more aware about what’s going on in the lives of people around us.

“It’s not perfect but it’s the ultimate antidote to this,” he said. “We need to be vigilant and caring about one another so that maybe we can get in the way of some of these things before they become raging, crazy, insane, life-altering tragedies.”

After the meeting, Murray said she thinks local people, including some of her fellow students, have a false sense of security about school shootings because of where they live.

“I hear a lot of students say it will never happen here or it will only happen in cities,” she said. “Newtown wasn’t a city. Saranac Lake is a Newtown in a more isolated area. I do think we have a very high risk.”

But Murray’s fellow student representative on the school board, junior Nicholas Mann, said he was concerned about the impacts of increased security measures in a school setting.

“I think there’s a lot that can be done to promote, like Mr. Goldman said, people being more aware,” Mann said. “I do have an aversion to cameras and security measures in our schools. What he said about schools resembling a prison, I think it’s something we should strongly avoid at all costs. I think it discourages the kind of free-spirited open-minded learning environment that the high school is supposed to be.”

Mann also noted that there are many public places where people can be “fully exposed, and those places will never be any more secure than our high school is now. So it’s just a risk of modern life that we accept.”

Murray countered that schools are a place where people expect to be protected, more so than in other public places.

Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or