By Tyler Murphy
VOORHEESVILLE — In light of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, on Voorheesville Superintendent Teresa Thayer Snyder sent a letter on Monday to parents saying the school would re-evaluate its already robust security measures.
“What happened in a sweet little school in a sweet little town resonates with all of us at Voorheesville. As I spent the weekend watching this nightmare unfold over and over, I was struck by how utter lunacy can shatter tranquility,” wrote Snyder.
Snyder, along with a group of school officials and teachers, gathered around a television screen Friday morning and watched in horror as information about the shooting rampage was broadcast. In the aftermath, 20 first-grade students and eight adults, including the gunman, were dead in Newtown, Conn.
“I think it’s the most tragic event I’ve ever heard of in my life,” said Snyder.
As news of the shooting unfolded in national media Snyder contacted building administrators and determined the district would delay an official response until Monday to ensure a more balanced reaction.
“We wanted to make sure we weren’t overreacting to misinformation,” said Snyder.
Monday’s letter also warned that many of the security procedures in place at Voorheesville were in place at Sandy Hook, where they may have limited but did not prevent the shooting.
“The saddest part of event is that, even with all of the safety precautions in place, an insane individual bent on destruction, can figure out a way to accomplish his horrific mission,” wrote Snyder.
During the school day, each of Voorheesville’s two schools is locked with only one main entrance available for access. Visitors are recorded on security cameras and must ring a buzzer so the office clerks can check a video monitor and unlock the door remotely. Visitors sign in on a time sheet, listing their name and destination or whom they are visiting. All new school employees undergo fingerprint and background checks and are required to wear identification badges.
However, Snyder urged people not forget “it’s not a fortress, it’s a school. It’s a community center.”
When the 20-year-old Connecticut gunman, clad in body armor and armed with a semi-automatic assault rifle and pistols, attacked Sandy Hook, he encountered similar security measures but forced his way through them by shooting out a locked door’s window and killing a number of officials who attempted to stop him.
“We have a buzzer, but if they have an assault weapon…” commented Snyder to The Enterprise this week, not finishing her sentence. “None of us go into this line of work thinking we’re going to have to deal with assault weapons,” she said.
However in Texas, State Representative Debbie Riddle introduced new legislation this week, endorsed by Gov. Rick Perry, that would allow legal gun owners to carry firearms on school grounds.
Despite the shooting deaths, Snyder said, the security practices probably save countless other lives.
On Monday, Snyder held meetings with each building’s principal and faculty and the weekly administration team meeting had its agenda wiped clean so officials could talk about security and meeting the needs of upset students.
Snyder said teachers were asked to avoid bringing up the shooting during class or in casual conversations and to squelch inappropriate student remarks about the subject. However, Snyder told staff to engage students who seem troubled by the shooting and recommended they be directed to the school counselor and social worker.
“Teachers are being mindful in directing conversations,” said Snyder. She said it was up to parents, especially for younger children, to initiate discussions about the issue.
Members of the Albany County Sheriff’s office met with the district Tuesday and reviewed security policy and practices. The superintendent said the current security was deemed adequate but nonetheless the district is planning further review of the policies.
“They [the sheriff’s office] offered us reassurances about our safety plan,” said Snyder.
Snyder said the incident has reinforced the value of maintaining constant vigilance in enforcing polices. After the winter break, she said, the district’s safety team would look for improvements to the current security measures and recommend any changes to the board of education.
“When something like this happens in a town, that feels a lot like a place like Voorheesville, it stays a part of our hearts and minds forever,” said Snyder.