May 10, 2006
Parents Demand Change
They asked for metal detectors, they asked for diversity training and zero tolerance for racism. They demanded better communication and an enhanced police presence. On Monday night some 400 parents filled the auditorium at East Hampton High School, reacting to rumors of a pending Columbine-like attack.
Outside, a handful of TV news vans parked at the edge of the school property, one reporter interviewing students. Inside, parents grilled school and police officials about the events leading up to the afternoon.
Many said they'd been invited to the meeting when their children didn't show up for school that morning. One told The Independent she kept her child home until she'd walked the halls of the schools herself and felt it was okay.
Some parents worried the alleged perp was part of a white supremacist gang called True Blue Americans. Chief Todd Sarris attempted to dispel the fear. Last year EHTPD invited the county's special gang unit to assess the school. They found no evidence of organized gang activity.
Parents also appeared frustrated. The rumors began over the weekend, yet officials didn't act to assuage concerns till Monday afternoon. Why couldn't the information have been posted on the district website?, one parent asked, prompting applause.
High school principal Scott Farina noted the logistical problem inherent in mobilizing a response on a Sunday. Superintendent Ray Gualtieri, however, acknowledged the school website might have been a useful vehicle for disseminating information.
Parents repeatedly asked if the school offered ongoing programs to address simmering racial tensions. Another parent reported she had attended several such events at the school. They were not as well attended as Monday's meeting was, she said.
The assertion, made by another parent that stemming racial tension begins at home drew more applause. So did another parent's expression of thanks for the visible police presence that morning.
Though one parent said she found the spectacle of heavily armed officers in front of the school "startling," many seemed to welcome it.
Farina vowed "to continue to do what we can to make your children feel safe."