OP ED: Actions of School Leadership Led to Avoidable Hysteria

Sara Harris, Staff Reporter, Sophomore

A student spends, on average, six hours a day, twenty days a month, and nine months a year in a classroom. Institutions, responsible for teaching children, are also responsible for safeguarding them. This week, our district failed.

I have, prior to the events of Monday, never felt unsafe in this building. I’m not sure why I thought we were different from the hundreds of schools who have faced the threat of school threats, but I did. In the trauma felt by my peers, my teachers and myself, the classrooms of PMHS no longer promise safety and sanctuary. I felt as though they had become my own personal purgatory.

For the students who knew in their hearts all would be okay, I commend you. I envy you. My emotions were far more potent.

For the students who left, anxiety-ridden, I sympathize with you. No child should ever fear for their security in a safe space.

For the teachers who walked into deserted classrooms, confused and angry, with no clue how to handle a situation for which they had been kept in the dark, I feel your pain.

Sadly, the finger of blame must be pointed at an administration who failed to communicate. As a student who chose to stay after the exodus of panicked students began, I witnessed this negligence first hand and have many questions.

First, I believe many are curious as to why a student who may have had a violent agenda was even allowed into the building Monday morning? Mr. Berkowitz stated they posed no threat, yet he failed to realize that perception precedes reality, as Andy Warhol once said. If the vast majority felt unsafe because of the presence of a single individual, it would have been possible to make everyone feel safer. Even if there was no means to harming any of us physically, keeping the student in school led to mental unease, a facet of this event I believe Pelham schools did not take into account.

If students were already exiting the building at the beginning of sixth period, why did the upper level staff wait until more than halfway through seventh to make an announcement ensuring our security? Seventh period is more than half way through our day; that’s an awfully long time for them to allow panic to continue to build. Why didn’t an administrator see the ensuing panic? How could they allow whispered worries to move through the hallways for hours until almost every student had heard some form of the rumor?

Furthermore, the omission of vital information to faculty was a tremendous oversight. Teachers are often looked to as a means of providing students with support, something they cannot do if they lack the information to do so.

The email sent home, with what was intended to calm guardians down, only further induced paranoia. In speaking with my own mother, she expressed that the entire situation was very overwhelming. On one hand, she was texting me and other parents of Pelham, hearing talk of a school shooter potentially entering our building, while also receiving a cryptic message from the school.

I acknowledge that the instances occurring prior to Monday most likely catalyzed the situation this week, however, I also believe that steps could have been taken to ease everyone’s minds.

Sophomore Ryan Lacilla stated, “I feel the administration could have done a better job informing the school about the incident(s)…In a sense, the school tried to cover it up, but did not succeed.”

I think many have reached the consensus that, even if we may not be privy to specific information regarding all instances, the administration completely dropped the ball.

Following the panic, many stayed home on Tuesday, still recovering from the concerning occasion. Meetings were held, addressing educators, parents and students. Q and A sessions were hostile, the administration seemingly dodging questions with rehearsed answers.

The side-stepping political agenda of Pelham shone through in each conversation, meeting, assembly, and ZOOM call. Ultimately, they never really addressed the problem. They seemed, only to exacerbate the situation.
So, what could have made me, as a student, feel safer?\

  • Clear and swift communication.
  • Transparency with everyone about steps being taken.
  • A greater security presence.
  • Consequences for discipline across the board to be meted out swiftly and consistently.

I know that the PMHS command was completely unprepared for these circumstances, and that fact may reflect on the Pelham District rather than the school itself, but there is a sense of trust that has been broken, at least for myself, and I am unsure how this institution will piece it back together.