Update given on school lockdown

GLOVERSVILLE — The Gloversville Enlarged School District Board of Education on Monday received an update on follow up actions from the district and the Gloversville Police Department following the false reporting incident that led to a lockdown at Gloversville High School a week earlier.

A lockdown was initiated at Gloversville High School on March 2 around 2:30 p.m. after Fulton County Dispatch received an anonymous call stating that a man was inside of the school with a gun.

City police and area law enforcement agencies responded to the call in accordance with active shooter protocols. During the response officers and dispatchers were able to identify the caller who admitted to making the false report out of distress over unrelated matters. No armed individuals were actually observed at any point during the call or response.

Although police identified the caller at around 3:15 p.m. and determined that there was no threat, police followed protocol by clearing the school room by room before the lockdown was lifted at around 4:30 p.m.

City police charged an unnamed juvenile with making a terroristic threat in connection to the incident on Friday. The juvenile has since been referred to Fulton County Probation.

Gloversville High School Principal Richard DeMallie on Monday estimated that 170 students and all 100 building staff members were directly impacted by the lockdown that occurred around dismissal time. DeMallie noted that for the first 40 minutes of the roughly two-hour procedure the false nature of the threat was unknown, saying that students, staff and law enforcement responded swiftly and appropriately.

“In less than I would say one minute … I could not see or hear another person in the building, so our response and students’ ability to hide or exit the building was immediate,” he said. “We had immediate law enforcement response.”

While both DeMallie and GESD Superintendent David Halloran acknowledged the serious nature of the incident, the officials pointed to the timing of the situation during dismissals and the fact that the threat proved unfounded as providing the district a valuable learning opportunity.

“There is a silver lining to this unfortunate experience, that is that we got a drill at the most inopportune time imaginable,” said Halloran. “It was scary, I don’t want to make light of that, it was a scary experience for people, but as an organization we are going to get sharper as a result.”

The morning following the incident, DeMallie instructed homeroom teachers to review lockdown procedures with students and encouraged classroom discussions surrounding any concerns from students. This information was collected and passed on to school counselors.

Later in the morning, DeMallie met with the student liaison committee comprised of members of student leaders at each grade level to hear their thoughts and concerns following the incident. The principal reviewed these details during a subsequent meeting with building leaders where staff members organized a response to students’ concerns.

The response was presented as part of classroom discussion during the final class period of the day, again prompting thoughts and concerns from students and staff members that were collected by DeMallie and reviewed the following morning during a building safety committee meeting attended by Lt. Brad Schaffer of the Gloversville Police Department. The process was repeated once more during a department chair meeting.

“We looked at all the concerns from our students and staff members and we addressed those one by one,” said DeMallie.

DeMallie pointed to concerns from students and staff members over a small number of students who did not follow district protocol during the lockdown.

“We’ve come out with 10 students that we directly had to talk to and define their procedures and provide consequences to for not following them,” he said.

Additionally, DeMallie pointed to the need for improved communication between district buildings during an incident and the Gloversville Police Department, students and staff members about each group’s responsibilities during an incident and how to properly end a lockdown.

Schaffer, who was present for Monday’s meeting, informed the school board that he is preparing an after action report for review by Police Chief Anthony Clay and the police department is in the process of identifying areas where the department was successful and areas for improvement.

“We’ve identified pros and cons, I’m reluctant to get into the specifics of those, because some of those involve sensitive topics that I’m not comfortable discussing publicly, but I’m more than happy to discuss privately,” said Schaffer. “We are more than willing to sit down at the table with anybody and discuss how things went.”

Schaffer noted that following the lockdown the police department provided officers with an inservice training document outlining the various emergency response procedures that can be instituted at schools and detailing the steps involved in initiating, carrying out and concluding each operation.

“I think that’s something that we really need to drill home to the men and women of the police department that ‘hey, you made the right call, but do you understand what the protracted repercussions of that lockdown call are,’” he said.

Due to the time of the incident during dismissals, Board of Education President Robert Curtis pointed to the need to better inform parents and guardians of how to respond in the event a lockdown is called, noting that he was able to watch video of the event unfolding online and saw parents who arrived on campus before the lockdown was called to pick up students after school who remained parked in front of the school until they were asked to move by police.

“Everybody sat out front until finally somebody asked them to move,” he said.

Schaffer said the responsibility of clearing parents and individuals outside of the building from the scene would fall on the police department.

“I think it’s a fluid situation, ultimately the buck stops with us in this type of incident, so I’ll say that’s on us to make that call that hey we’ve got to shut that area down,” he said.

Schaffer added that parents were ultimately moved to the student parking lot to provide an area where students could reunite with parents upon release and to clear the area in front of the school for the arrival of other law enforcement agencies and fire crews who assisted with controlling the scene and to provide an area for an ambulance and fire response in the event emergency medical services were required.

Board member Paula Brown-Weinstock asked about the ability of building leaders to communicate with individuals who are outside of the building during a lockdown, pointing to students who were exiting the building when the procedure was initiated.

“I’m thinking about all those kids who are going in and outside and I’m thinking how do they know what’s going on,” she said.

DeMallie noted that currently the high school has only one loud speaker on the exterior of the building located in the area of the student parking lot. Halloran pointed to the incident as alerting the district to the need to install exterior loud speakers on all school campuses to improve communication in the event of an emergency.

Board member Vincent Salvione, who was present on campus during the incident picking up his children from school, commended the actions of district officials and local law enforcement, sharing his confidence that district safety has improved during his time on the board.

“As a parent I just want to say I think everybody did an outstanding job based on the situation for what you could do with the way it happened,” said Salvione. “The amount of presence that I saw when I got there … it was amazing to me.”

“I understand that there’s always room for improvement when it comes to situations particularly like this one and I trust fully that everybody’s on top of it,” he added.

“I have a lot of respect for the administrators in this school district bringing all the parties and their voices together, I think that says a lot about the operation that you’re frankly running here, students have a voice, teachers have a voice,” said Schaffer. “We will continue to make ourselves available to have a seat at that table and discuss all of this with you, because the primary goal is the safety of the students and the staff in this school district period and whatever we have to do to accomplish that is what we will do.”

By Patricia Older

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