Among the noise and bluster of East Hill Elementary School students heading home from the first day of school, the Canajoharie Central School District received a $50,000 grant from New York State Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara to continue to improve safety and security measures across its three schools on Wednesday.
“As a parent of two children, I know how important it is to have peace of mind when our children are at school. When it comes to our children, safety comes first,” said Santabarbara who represents New York’s 111th Assembly District, which comprises all of Montgomery County and parts of Schenectady and Albany Counties during the presentation with Canajoharie school officials, administrators, and parents.
Santabarbara started securing the grant after parents contacted him with concerns over a January incident that occurred in the East Hill Elementary School when a visitor interacted with students in a manner that made them feel uncomfortable. The visitor was legally allowed in the school, but it was later found that the visitor, the uncle of a student, was a Level 2 sex offender.
No students were harmed in the incident, but the district immediately changed its security policies regarding visitors in all of its schools and began working on new plans to upgrade security practices and equipment.
The grant – which will not affect the district’s state funding nor local taxpayers – will help continue that mission.
“When I heard from concerned parents about what happened earlier this year, I immediately began working to find the funding to make sure it would not happen again,” Santabarbara said. “This funding will help ensure visitors are properly screened prior to entering the school, restrict access to school property with new safety and security measures and implement a best practice policy regarding the admission of visitors to school facilities.”
“Making sure our students are safe is our absolute top priority and this grant will help us continue to do that,” said Canajoharie Central School District Superintendent Deborah Grimshaw. “There is a great sense of community around the safety of all of our students and we will continue to make sure that they learn in a safe and secure environment.”
After the clerical details are worked out, the funding will be available to the district later this month. Following a vendor bidding process, new security equipment will be installed as soon as possible. The primary piece of equipment will be a machine that scans a visitor’s government-issued identification – driver’s license, passport, military ID, etc. – and compares that information to a variety of state and federal law enforcement databases. If a visitor is cleared than the machine will print a pass that the visitor must wear while in the school building. If there is an issue, the equipment automatically notifies both school officials and local law enforcement via text and alert messaging.
Other school districts in Santabarbara’s legislative district, such as Schalmont and Mohonasen, have already installed similar systems. Beyond this latest grant, Santabarbara also introduced school safety-related legislation in the previous session of the New York State Assembly. That legislation is currently working its way through the legislative process and will likely be part of the next administrative session in January.