GHS trio ask school board to require education on safe storage of guns

— Still frame from Feb. 15 Guilderland School Board meeting

Conor Webb asks the Guilderland School Board to pass a resolution requiring education of parents on the secure storage of firearms.

GUILDERLAND — Three students stood before the school board here on Feb. 15, calling for the board to pass a resolution requiring education of parents on the secure storage of firearms.

“We are scared,” said Conor Webb who stood with Nora Whiteside and Emily O’Connor.

“We are demanding more because we deserve more,” said Webb.

He is the president of the Guilderland chapter of March For Our Lives.

The student-led organization with chapters across the country was founded in 2018 in the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. A former student with disciplinary issues, Nikolas Cruz, 19, opened fire on students and staff on Feb. 14 of that year, killing 17 and wounding 17 more.

Following the massacre, a student-led March For Our Lives took place on March 24 in Washington, D.C. with coordinated demonstrations in more than 800 places across the country and around the world. In the United States, as many as 2 million people were estimated to have participated in the protests, which included 90 percent of all voting districts, crossing party lines, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, which helped the organizers.

The March For Our Lives umbrella organization continues to track gun deaths and has logged over 167,745 since the shooting in Parkland, Florida.

“We have hundreds of chapters around the country led by students who enact change on the local level,” its website says. “Whether organizing a walkout at a high school, lobbying for better safety measures on campus, writing statewide legislation, or showing up at school board and city council meetings, our chapters make change.”

Webb told the Guilderland School Board that between Aug. 1 and Nov. 30 of last year, there have been at least 104 instances of gunfire on school grounds, killing 20 people and wounding 79 people.

“At least 5.4 million children live in a home with at least one unlocked and loaded weapon and at least 80 percent of school shooters under the age of 18 aquire their weapons from the home, including the recent Oxford, Michigan shooter, who killed four,” said Webb.

Ethan Crumbley, a 15-year-old sophomore at Oxford High School, was charged with terrorism and first-degree murder of four students for the Nov. 30, 2021 shooting, and his parents were charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter.

At the December Guilderland School Board meeting, in the wake of the Oxford shooting, the board discussed school security at length

Webb told the board on Feb. 1 that Everytown for Gun Safety and its grassroots organizations, Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action, have released “a comprehensive roadmap to prevent school shootings and at the top of their list is the secure storage of firearms.”

Everytown for Gun Safety, a not-for-profit organization founded in 2013, is primarily financed by Michael Bloomberg, businessman and former New York City mayor. 

“The measures being proposed today are non-controversial, backed by data and, most importantly, most could be taken tomorrow …,” says the Everytown “roadmap.”

Most of the recommendations involve legislation on the state and federal levels but several encourage local initiatives such as urging pediatricians to counsel families on safe gun storage.

Also, educators are urged to ask about access to guns, “especially in the home, whenever working with a student who may pose a risk to harming themselves or the school community. Schools must be made aware of relevant extreme risk laws and how they should be used to prevent access to guns,” the roadmap says.

“Because parents must be held responsible if they do not secure their firearms, we will launch a national call to encourage prosecutors to bring applicable charges against gun owners who fail to secure the firearms that contribute to acts of gun violence,” says the Everytown roadmap. “In addition to activating our millions of supporters, we will work with prosecutors associations to make recommendations that prosecutors can act on.”

More than 1.5 million students across the United States now live in a school district that requires schools to educate parents about the critical importance of secure firearm storage, Everytown says.

The group promotes a Be SMART program, spelling out the acronym for parents this way:

— Secure all guns in their home and vehicles;

— Model responsible behavior around guns;

— Ask about the presence of unsecured guns in other homes;

— Recognize the role of guns in suicide; and

— Tell your peers to be SMART.

Webb told the Guilderland School Board, “We are being needlessly traumatized over and over because of these threats of shootings. Tackling school safety must include addressing gun violence that happens inside and outside of our classrooms.”

Webb said that school boards in Vermont, Texas, California, Arizona, South Carolina, and Georgia had passed resolutions requiring education of parents on the secure storage of firearms. Last week, the school board in Montgomery, Maryland passed such a resolution, Webb said, urging Guilderland to do the same.

Webb said it would fit in with Guilderland’s focus on safety and social and emotional health. Everytown, he said, has identified as a second priority dealing with mental health to reduce gun violence.

Board President Seema Rivera asked the students to send the school board more information for consideration at a later meeting.


Other business

In other business at its Feb. 15 meeting, the Guilderland School Board:

— Heard from Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders that, due to the higher-than-anticipated costs for transportation contracts and also because of tax certiorari settlements, stemming from Guilderland’s 2019 revaluation, the district’s fund balance and reserves will be drawn upon.

He said the money is “set aside for situations like this where we have unanticipated expenses.” The board will be apprised of firmer numbers closer to the end of the year, he said.

 “It all balances out. It doesn’t affect us going forward,” said Sanders, adding there will be no effect on the tax levy or tax cap;

— Heard that six teachers have been named this year to the New York State Master Teacher Program: Ashley Girard and Stacy DiMura at Farnsworth Middle School and Max Corbett, Alicia McTiernan, Jared Foro, and Deb Boyce at Guilderland High School.

Superintendent Marie Wiles said Guilderland had the highest number of master teachers of any district in the region and perhaps in the state.

This year, 230 educators were named to the program, joining the network of Master Teachers created in 2013, bringing the total number of selected master teachers across New York State to over 1,400.

The program was established to recruit, retain, and reward the best teachers in the high-demand subject areas of math and science. To do so, teachers receive an annual stipend of $15,000, totaling $60,000 over four years, as well as a chance to learn through the State University of New York system;

— Heard from Wiles the results of a ThoughtExchange, which invited three groups to share their priorities for next year’s budget. Altogether, 307 students participated, 149 staff or faculty members participated, and 187 parents or community members took part in the online survey. The results are posted on the district’s website;

— Authorized Wiles to execute a memorandum of agreement between the school district and the Guilderland Support Services Association in a contract to run from July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2024;

— Approved the creation of a scholarship to honor Demian Singleton, a longtime educational leader at Guilderland who died of cancer on Oct. 18, 2021 at the age of 52. The  Dr. Demian Singleton Memorial Scholarship will recognize a student “who has overcome unique challenges and embodies ideals that Dr. Singleton championed: social justice, inclusion and enrichment for all. The purpose of the award will be to aid in the cost of continued education without regard for grade point average or college major”; and

— Reviewed a nine-page memorandum of agreement involving the school district, the town, and the Guilderland Police Department for a school resource officer, which the board will vote on at its next meeting.

“We have never had an MOU,” said Wiles, explaining that, in the past, the agreement had been more informal but that a written agreement is a requirement of the district’s safety plan.

The town pays the officer’s salary for the year and the school district then pays the town for the 180 days that the officer is in the schools, said Sanders.

Board member Nathan Sabourin asked if the officer is armed and Wiles said he is.

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