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Panel talks gun safety

— Kathleen Donohue, vice president of New York State United Teachers, assured audience members that teachers have a goal to create a safe, nurturing and supportive environment in which children can learn and grow.

“Nothing, nothing is more important to the educators that we represent and that are out there working than the safety of the children in the schools,” she said.

Dr. L. Oliver Robinson, superintendent of the Shenendehowa School District, agreed that the safety of children is the number one priority, but stressed that “it’s a fine line we don’t cross, between having schools being schools versus schools being correctional institutions.”

Robinson said deterrent measures could be put in place, including buzz-in access and security cameras.

“School safety is enhanced most by increased awareness,” said Robinson. “In every instance after a tragedy, people came forward to say ‘I knew, I thought, I wish I would of, could of said something.’”

Robinson said a nurturing environment needs to be present, in which people can be open to those comments. While he talked about security measures, he said armed security guards are not the answer. The National Rifle Association called for an armed guard in every school after the Newtown shooting.

“I’m not sure adding more guns to the equation is going to solve our problem,” Robinson said.

Panelist Karen Parlapiano, the region director for the Northeastern Region PTA, added that becoming a part of the local picture is part of communication.

“Parents and the community can mobilize by first coming together,” she said. “We are only as strong as our weakest voice.”

Parlapiano said society can’t afford to be complacent in a world that has changed in wake of the recent tragedies.

“We are one voice for every child,” she said.

No easy answers

An issue the panelists agreed contributes to a sometimes toxic atmosphere in schools is bullying and intolerance for those who are “different.”

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