It started with what was described as a threat on social media Nov. 15, and continued just a few weeks later when two students were reportedly found to have brought a gun on campus.
The start of the academic year hasn’t been a good one so far for Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy, and parents are demanding to know what’s being done to keep their children safe at the West 237th Street school. Many attended a meeting at the New York Police Department’s 50th Precinct last week to get those answers.
Officials have said the social media threat was unfounded, and the gun was not intended to inflict any harm on anyone. Still, in a day and age when no school feels safe, RKA parents aren’t taking any chances, with some asking for some severe safety measures, including permanent metal detectors at the school’s entrances.
Such a move is possible, Officer John Labianca said, but NYPD can’t implement that. Instead, it would be up to the city’s education department. Councilman Andrew Cohen, who also attended the meeting, wasn’t very keen on that specific idea, however.
“I don’t know how I feel about metal detectors in the school,” he said. “Ultimately, if you bring law enforcement into the school, the kids are going to have encounters with them and I’m not super in favor of that. I want to have school be about education and not about getting arrested. I’m very concerned about the dehumanizing impact going into this.”
It’s not that police presence is bad for schools. Cohen just doesn’t want what might be nothing more than occasional fights dealt with by detention and suspensions to instead become assaults and arrests.
RKA did install metal detectors after the social media threat in November, but the equipment wasn’t used every day. Conducting such screening randomly is a better use of resources, Labianca said, especially when students can’t anticipate when they would be checked and when they wouldn’t.
However, metal detectors weren’t the only safety measure on many people’s lists. Together, Cohen and Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz drafted a letter to schools chancellor Richard Carranza requesting a full school security analysis to determine what exactly RKA needs.
“We are requesting that you undertake a complete security survey for RKA, presuming one has not recently been completed already, and begin an internal conversation about how to improve communications with parents in emergency situations,” Dinowitz and Cohen wrote. “For example, we have specific concerns regarding the number of cameras and school safety agents as well as support for the school’s ability to stay ahead of misinformation being disseminated by frightened students and parents.”
Communication has been an issue in light of these two security issues at the school, officials said. Without open dialogue, the public has a tendency to let rumors fill the gaps, making it impossible to ensure accurate information is getting out through RKA principal Lori O’Mara.
“Our office is staying in very close touch with the principal and the 50th Precinct on this,” Dinowitz said. “I was very dismayed that at the meeting a few weeks ago, prior to Thanksgiving, the DOE had a minimal presence at the meeting and the principal was left alone to answer the questions. DOE was not helpful to her or to the school, and it was very disturbing. I think she’s doing her best under the circumstances.”
O’Mara sent a letter home to parents after the first incident, reassuring them she was working closely with the NYPD to keep RKA safe.
“I want to assure you that all emergency response protocols were followed,” O’Mara wrote. “Out of an abundance of caution, we will have additional safety measures in place.”
O’Mara didn’t elaborate on what exactly those additional safety measures would be.
Parents have plenty to be concerned about already. There have already been more than 80 school shooting incidents in the United States this past year, according to reports. And while violence can happen anywhere at anytime, Labianca did remind parents that they should at least feel safer here.
“RKA has had a little trouble over the past couple of weeks, but we’re still in Riverdale,” the officer said.
“This is still a beautiful community. This is not a school in the South Bronx.”
As far as the two boys who reportedly brought the gun to school a couple weeks back, their future at RKA is still up for debate. The unidentified boys are on suspension, and will face an administrative hearing, Labianca said. Afterward, the education board will be tasked in deciding their fate.
“RKA has a very good reputation and I have a lot of confidence in Principal O’Mara,” Cohen said. “I believe she can get control of the situation.
“I always thought the school was safe and well run, and I would like to go back to the way it was.”