More to the Story: School Safety
Reporting by Noelle Paek, Madelyn Palm, and Dean Simons
A sudden crackle and the intercom tone rings out.
“We are now entering a hold-in place.”
Fifth period classes come to a sudden halt but quickly resume, the students completely unaware of the group of police officers sweeping the school just outside their doors.
On March 30, more than 35 calls reached schools and districts around New York State, including Corning-Painted Post High School. The voice on each line reported a mass shooting in progress, sending local police scrambling to respond to more than
220 schools statewide.
Each had been swatted by the unidentified caller.
“A swatting incident is when someone calls 911 or the local police and they report something that’s really not happening, but their purpose is to get the police to respond in a big way. When it happens, it tends to happen to a whole area, like how ours was across the state. The caller’s goal is to disrupt the normal flow. It really disrupts everybody’s day,” School Resource Officer Vincent Hill said.
The incident started downstate, and the Corning Police Department immediately notified the high school that they might receive the same call.
“Once we had been advised, we came up with a plan in the event that we did get that call. The plan was to go into a hold-in place and do a quick sweep of the building based on what the call said and then release the kids. And that’s exactly what happened,” Hill said.
With the increase of school shootings around the nation, the swatting incident was a harsh reminder of the very real threat all students face in school. In a Google survey conducted by the Tesserae yearbook staff in March 2023, with 223 responses, just over 43% of students said they thought about gun violence somewhat to very often.
“I think especially where we live, with New York having a big risk for gun violence with what happened in Buffalo in Tops, there is a risk of it happening. There hasn’t been any gun violence in our area in Corning, but it has happened within a few mile radius. I actually had to go into a full lockdown in elementary because something was happening a few blocks down,” freshman Noel McLean said.
And it isn’t just the students who thought about it.
“The possibility of a shooting is something I’m always worried about. I think every teacher is nowadays. It’s a pretty big responsibility that teachers have,” Science Teacher Lucas
In preparation for that responsibility, teachers and staff participated in required in-service training on how they should respond to a threat and protect their students. The school’s SROs studied after-action reports, 30- to 40-page documents, that summarized law enforcement agencies’ responses to shooting incidents around the country.
“Officer Josh Czyz and I are both pretty confident that we would respond in the right way. It really is a random thing. It could happen anywhere. We just have
to stay ready,” Hill said.
Not all students shared that same feeling of preparedness. 78% of students responding to the survey were either neutral or disagreed that the school’s lockdown drills were an effective means of promoting readiness in the building. Some felt the approach to the drills should be changed.
“In the case of a lockdown, I feel as prepared as anyone really can be in that kind of situation. I think we probably need more of the drills. I’m kind of annoyed by them when they happen, but we only get lockdown drills for one or two classes for pretty much the entire year. It would be useful to have more of them spread out throughout the year,” junior Brian Nordman said.
Others raised concern for the procedure practiced in the drills.
“I don’t think sitting in a corner is a great idea in case of a school shooting,” junior Trevor Guck said.
There were also questions on the effectiveness of other safety measures set in place, such as the post-COVID policy change of locking doors on all classrooms once instruction had begun each period
“All my teachers actually do the locked doors. I’ve certainly heard that some don’t, but I know that all my teachers do. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure it’s necessary, but it’s one of those things where it’s really more about making everyone feel safe rather than actually making everybody safe,” Nordman said.
History Teacher Jennifer Quackenbush supported the policy but considered its negative effects. “I don’t like locking my doors. I agree with it, but I always feel bad when a kid comes back and they’re literally locked out. I just hope we can make sure that it’s a welcoming environment and we focus on what’s important.”
Safety concerns in the building stemmed from other issues, as well. John Fesetch, Dean of Students, noticed a change in the number of reported fights.
“We’ve had an increase in physical altercations this year. That’s not a day-to-day thing, but it’s more common than it has been,” Fesetch said.
More than 73% of students claimed to have witnessed a fight between students at school. Freshman Brayden Hade was one of them; he was in history class when a fight broke out right outside his classroom window.
“We were all just sitting, waiting for class to start when it happened. Then we saw the fight spill out into the hallway. At first there were just two guys but then some kid came around the back of the F hallway and started fighting too. I could see them punching each other and stuff. The resource officers came and took them away after. I was just confused. It came out of nowhere and I didn’t expect it,” Hade said.
With an apparent increase in altercations between students, many took comfort in the presence of hallway cameras and the school’s two SROs. Just 45% of students believed that hallway cameras were somewhat or very effective, with that figure rising to 60% for the effectiveness of having police officers in the school.
“The hallway cameras help with my feeling of safety because I know everything can be caught on tape. The police officers definitely help with my feeling of safety, especially if I have a feeling something is going to happen, I know that it probably won’t. Their guns are there so that if they have to use that force of action, they can take it,” McLean said.
It was the students’ own feelings of safety that mattered. Despite fights, swats, and headlines about shootings across the nation, 72% of CPPHS students felt safe in school compared with just 59% respondents to a national survey conducted by YouthTruth.
Still, the nation’s ongoing concern with violence in schools colored the high school experience with a sense of unease and even fear for many who sat in class, as well as the parents and caregivers who wanted them home safely at the end of the day.
The jiggle of the doorknob during a lockdown drill could one day be from a real threat.
A trendy HydroFlask became something to throw at an invader.
For parents, a notification from the school caused hearts to drop.
The building and everyone in it prepared for the day they would have to put practice to purpose. Faculty and staff shared in maintaining vigilance, should that day
“I always think ‘today could be the day.’ I know exactly how I’m going to barricade my door. I know exactly where I’m going to have the kids go to get out of sight. It’s a thought that’s in the back of all of our heads,” Canino said.