The entire country was stopped in its tracks on Friday when the news emerged that a gunman had done the unthinkable, killing 20 innocent first graders in their Connecticut classroom. He stormed the school on an ordinary day, without warning and with no apparent motive. And since the murderer then killed himself, leaving no note, the reason for his brutal rampage may never be known.
Now reality is setting in for all parents who have to drop their children off at school this week. School, a place that parents often consider a safe haven, is feeling anything but secure.
On Friday, School Superintendent Michael McGill sent the following email to school parents – and we have received several letters in response to his note from parents who feel we can do more to safeguard our children at school.
Here is Dr. McGill's original email, a response from Dr. Tanya Drajic, mother of three children in the Scarsdale Schools and Dr. McGill's reply to her letter:
(From Dr. McGill)
Dear Members of the Scarsdale Schools Community:
As we learn the details of this morning's horror in Newtown Connecticut, we're living out yet another of those nightmare moments that have become all too familiar in recent years. Our hearts go out to the children, parents, teachers and all the other residents of a stricken community.
We have absolutely no reason to make a connection between what's just occurred in Newtown and reality here in Scarsdale. Nonetheless, I've asked our principals to take particular care in enforcing existing safety precautions and to review building safety procedures with their staffs. Also, as appropriate to children's age, staff will do their best to provide reassurance, a sense of stability, and opportunities to come to terms with events that defy understanding. Finally, the following website offers parents information about discussing traumatic events with children: http://www.nasponline.org/resources/crisis_safety/terror_general.aspx If you have questions or concerns, please don't hesitate to contact your building principal or school psychologist.
Evil and fear are in the world. It's given to us to stand against both. Ultimately, our best protection against the darkness is our own courage, our humanity and one another. Please know that our children's well-being is foremost in the minds of Scarsdale's teachers, school leadership, and support staff.
Michael V. McGill
Superintendent of Schools
(From Dr. Dragic)
Dear Mr. McGill,
Thank you for reaching out to the Scarsdale community after the unspeakable heartbreak that descended upon the families of Newtown. This was truly an act beyond the light of reason.
I was surprised, however, by your words that "We have absolutely no reason to make a connection between what's just occurred in Newtown and reality here in Scarsdale." Mental illness, violence and easy access to very powerful firearms are a reality in all of America, including Scarsdale. What happened in Newtown could happen anywhere, anytime, and is happening at an alarming and growing frequency all across the country. This is a fact and the Scarsdale community is not immune to this fact.
I therefore call upon you not just to "enforce existing safety precautions" but to improve them. And I call upon you to involve faculty, staff, parents and the Scarsdale Police Department in this effort. These different arms of the community should work together to come up with the best possible, reasonable improvements to our schools' security. Clearly, no school can be made unbreachable, but there is much room for improvement.
Currently, unchecked entrance into Scarsdale schools during the day is fairly easy. I do it on a regular basis in order to deliver forgotten items to my children. The Middle School does not even have a buzzer system at the front door and its side doors are often unlocked. At FME, workers are constantly entering and exiting side doors that are not closed properly. I am sure the situation is no different at the other elementary schools and the high school.
Surely, security could be made tighter if not foolproof, including buzzer systems, double doors, self-locking outside doors with entrance cards, rule enforcement, dedicated receptionists, etc. I am also sure that the parents of Scarsdale will support such efforts because our children's safety is paramount and we are not naïve about the world we live in.
I look forward to hearing from you on this issue.
Dr. Tanya Dragic
(mother of Alex, Hanna and Sophie Maddon)
(From Dr. McGill)
Dear Dr. Dragic,
Thanks for your e-mail.
First, the initial part of my earlier message was simply intended to communicate we had no reason to believe Scarsdale students were in immediate danger as a result of the events in Newtown.
More broadly, of course, you're correct that schools -- and everyone else -- are vulnerable to acts of unspeakable violence in a culture where access to firearms is all-but-unfettered and where mental health issues are often ignored. Like everyone else in our region, I'm personally shaken by Friday's events. I assure you that we will review our existing procedures to determine what, if anything, more we can reasonably do to be sure children are safe.
For your information, we already do coordinate with the Scarsdale Police Department -- and they with regional law enforcement agencies -- as well as with our parent-teacher organizations, in the developing and implementing security protocols. Each school regularly conducts safety drills, including lockdown drills, in response to a variety of security scenarios. The police also conduct training drills in our buildings. A district safety team is responsible for overseeing these procedures and practices.
While we can do what we can do to provide a safe school environment, the most important steps we could take as a community and as a nation would be to promote tough gun control laws and to begin to provide the kind of mental health services necessary to identify and treat young people before they become self-destructive or destructive of others. We will not extirpate evil, and human beings will commit terrible crimes in the future. But we can make a difference. We can make things better.
Please know that I take these matters very seriously. I know the superintendent and other educators in Newtown. I identify strongly with them and with the families in that community. I cannot imagine the horror they are going through. It is the last thing in the world I would ever want to happen in our community or any other.
Again, thank you for your e-mail. We will follow up, as I said, and work toward a better tomorrow.
Dr. Dragic is the mother of three children, ages 10, 12 and 13, in the Scarsdale school system. She is a member of the faculty at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, where until 2010 she ran a lab focused on HIV and Hep C research. Currently, She is involved in graduate and medical school teaching as well as research grant-writing activities at the College. She has a B.S. in Biochemistry and a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Paris.