Sunday, November 27, 2022

2 guns, one week: Glens Falls schools up in arms

By Cathy DeDe, Chronicle Managing Editor

‘Replica’ toy gun recovered by Glens Falls Police after an incident at Glens Falls Middle School. The phrase “replica” reflects how real it appears to be.

Toy gun at GF school

The Glens Falls Police Department passed along this photograph of the toy replica handgun that was recovered in the incident at Glens Falls Middle School on Wednesday, Sept. 14.

“We have posted the photo out of a general awareness to the public of how real these items can look in an immediate observation,” the Police said.

A fellow student saw the item when it fell out of a backpack and told an adult in the building, the police reported.

“The person who made the observation and reported the incident did a tremendous job of making notification immediately. We commend them for their actions.”

Twice in the first week, Glens Falls High School and Middle School were put on lockdown, lockout or shelter-in-place due to incidents involving guns.

Thursday, Sept. 8 — the first day of school — a student in the High School refused to leave the building during the back-to-school picnic.

He had been escorted out and came back in through a door opened by someone unaware of the situation. A BB gun fell from the student’s backpack during an encounter with the school’s hall monitor and principal.

Then on Wednesday, Sept. 14, an 11- year-old boy in the Middle School was seen with a toy replica gun in his backpack. A student reported it, and, again, both schools, which adjoin, were put on emergency measures.

In both cases, Glens Falls Police responded and removed the students.

Friday evening, School Superintendent Krislynn Dengler, new to the district since July 1, addressed approximately 100 parents, students, staff and community members in a public meeting in the high school auditorium.

She discussed specific safety issues, spoked of well-being programs, and answered submitted questions. Other people watched online. The program and materials are available online at gfsd.org.

The audience was generally calm. Questions were asked about logistics and protocols, social media issues and cell phones in the classroom.

Friday afternoon, prior to the meeting, Dr. Dengler told The Chronicle, “My goal coming here was to establish or grow a culture of safety. It’s what I’m about, even before these things happened.”

Dr. Krislynn Dengler — As of July 1, the new Glens Falls Superintendent. Chronicle photo/Cathy DeDe

She mentioned what The Chronicle has noted: Social media posts about the incidents are virulent, with much speculation on what happened, who’s to blame, what the district should do going forward.

“When you have two incidents happening so close together, people play those ‘what if’s’ in their head. We are reassuring students, staff, the community: We really are safety focused,” said Dr. Dengler.

At the community meeting, she urged people to stay in touch with the district, and avoid social media speculation.

“A lot of our folks, staff and students, and the Glens Falls Police Department, they did exactly the right thing in these incidents, and I’m so proud of us for that.

“Right now, we have to be reacting to what is happening this minute, the immediate safety issues, the bag checks.

“But we don’t want to live there. We can’t be reacting all the time. We want to be growing that culture of safety, that is proactive.”

What happens to those kids?

Dr. Dengler can’t discuss specific cases, but said of measures taken, “In general, when there is a big action like this, the student is most likely suspended.”

Consequences can include out-of-school suspension, “for a long time,” she said. It can also mean permanent expulsion from school.

Or, depending on what is determined through a Superintendent’s Hearing, “the student may be able to come back sooner, maybe with required counseling.”

There may be larger issues, mental disabilities, or perhaps a student was not supposed to be on the campus at the time of an incident, Dr. Dengler added.

She said that particularly in the case of a very young offender, as at the Middle School, “Our young people in general don’t have fully formed brain function. We don’t want them to repeat their offenses. How do we do use the process to teach without contributing to the dropout rate?”

At Glens Falls schools, “21 percent of our students are not graduating on time,” Dr. Dengler said. “That’s a different burden on the community.”

Safety was already on agenda

Dr. Dengler said, “Even before I got here, we had begun a safety assessment of school buildings by Armored One,” a consulting firm.

The school’s first action was to implement morning backpack and bag checks at the High and Middle Schools.

They will continue “indefinitely,” Dr. Dengler said. “But it’s a work in progress. We have to gauge how things are going. You also want to get the students into school in a timely manner, especially as it is getting colder.”

Options include going to random backpack checks, to speed things along.

At Friday’s community meeting — School Safety Officer John Norton (nearest to camera) and a crowd of perhaps 100 people. Chronicle photo/Cathy DeDe

“Some parents were talking about metal detectors at the last board meeting,” said Dr. Dangler. “That’s a big step and a commitment.

“Perhaps we will look at metal detector wands. I am not going to say never to anything. It is all about safety first.”

Students in both buildings now must store in their school-assigned lockers their backpacks, coats and other materials from home. In school, they carry only classroom materials.

In answer to questions, Dr. Dengler said they are working on ways for students to carry feminine hygiene products and approved medications — and to be sure there is enough time between classes to get to and from lockers.

They established anonymous tip-lines for students and community members to alert the district of threats or escalating situations that might impact the school.

They are implementing a system called “Raptor Visitor Management” that scans visitor drivers licenses (or other ID), does an instant background check and prints a visitor badge with photo.

They plan to install sensors that sound an alert if doors are left ajar.

School Safety Officer John Norton is on school campuses all day. Yes, in answer to a parent question, “he is armed.”

The district is in the process, too, of adding a Safety Monitor position, with security experience.

Dr. Dengler said she had also established “a Safety Council of building and community partners, including Glens Fall Police and Fire Departments, and the school’s insurance representative.” She said, “He’s really useful, because he understands risks and liabilities and sees what is done at other districts.”

How do they avoid such incidents?

Dr. Dengler said, “Kids have to believe they can seek fairness and justice for some perceived grievance, that they have some trusted person to help them think it through, before it comes to violence, to exercise awareness that the student does not possess.”

What’s the post-Covid culture? Coming to the district, Dr. Dengler said, “I did hear stories of students who have experienced a lot of trauma in their young lives. They need a lot of attention and care.”

She’s created a “Superintendent’s Cabinet” of 14 student leaders, “to hear from students themselves what they hear, see, think.”

“I addressed the student body today,” Dr. Dengler said. “I said, ‘we spend a lot of time together. This is our second home. We are a family.’ The goal is to empower the student body in general.”

“The relationships focus is huge, I believe — that one person matters.”

“One thing about the backpack checks,” she said. “I’m there every morning, meeting the students and talking to them.

“The lovely thing about Glens Falls: People really do care about each other. There’s a lot of positive energy.

“I can’t wait to have a discussion about all the great things we are doing here.”

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