Cinnaminson Schools Superintendent Stephen Cappello opened his report on a somber note Feb. 20, issuing a statement on behalf of the Board of Education and the district regarding school safety in an era of mass shootings.
Parents, educators and students across the United States face renewed anxieties about security following the killing of 17 students and staff at Stoneman Douglas Memorial High School in Parkland, Fla., where expelled student Nikolas Cruz allegedly opened fire on his classmates with an AR-15 rifle. Cinnaminson received a scare on Feb. 19 when rumors of a student threat circulated on Facebook, but police said the information was not credible.
Cappello said the moment of silence that precedes every board meeting had special significance this month as the nation mourns yet another school shooting.
“Cinnaminson, as a community and school system, has a commitment to ensure the very best for our young people. Paramount in this charge is a commitment to providing a safe and secure environment to learn, grow and feel supported,” he said. “As superintendent, I’m proud of the measures that our school staff and administration have taken to ensure safety, but I am not naive enough to conceive that it is anything short of a continuum for improvement.”
He added the district is continuously working with local police to employ best practices and research-based strategies wherever possible. Emotional support is available for students who may experience anxiety or distress as a result of recent events, and the board is always open to critique and suggestions from parents and community members.
Cinnaminson, according to Niche.com, is the 47th safest school district in New Jersey. The ranking was calculated based on factors such as expenses per student, in-school suspensions, absenteeism, school-related arrests and expulsions.
Several parents with children in the district spoke at the Tuesday meeting, asking the board how the district’s disciplinary policies play into student safety. Cappello said while discipline is handled on a case-by-case basis, a student’s record carries over across grades and schools within and outside the district.
Anne Ryan stepped forward to inform the board of a nationwide student walk-out planned in response to what many are calling negligence on gun safety legislation from Congress.
“I think it’s important for the schools and the board support these kids and consider not assigning tests those days, or allowing teachers to walk out with students as well in support of them,” Ryan said. “I think we have kids who are really trying to have a voice in this and empower themselves, and I ask that the school district consider giving the kids the right to do this without penalty.”
Responding to public comment, the board sympathized with the community’s concerns and frustrations, conveying solidarity with local and national efforts to remedy the increase of mass shootings in U.S. schools over the past two decades.
“I echo my colleagues on the board in their comments about last week’s events. I just ask that everyone keep the [victims] in their prayers and that we find a solution to this problem,” board Vice President James McGuckin said, “because this is a problem, and we have to do something about it, and not for only us here in this room. It is much greater than us. It has to stop.”