Three days after the shooting in Buffalo and a week before the shooting in Texas, South Seneca Central School District had its own threat to assess.
FingerLakes1.com has learned of an incident that occurred on Tuesday, May 17 around 10:30 a.m. at South Seneca Middle School. The incident involved a student who allegedly had a list of student and staff member names open on his school-provided Chromebook, which sparked concern among other students in the classroom.
The school looked into the matter and found no evidence of a threat. However, the incident sparked a debate over school protocol surrounding threats or perceived threats, the presence of School Resource Officers in schools and when a community notice of a threat should be issued.
Day of the incident
I spoke with South Seneca parent Genevieve Hardwick on Friday, May 20, who said her son’s name was on the other student’s list.
“How I came to know [about the list] is that my son became physically affected by it to a point where a teacher noticed there was something wrong,” explained Hardwick. “My son went to the nurse’s office because I thought maybe he was sick. That’s where he let the nurse know that there was a list of students and staff on this kid’s Chromebook.”
“My son didn’t tell me until I went to pick him up. All I knew was that my son wanted to go home. We got into the car, and he says, ‘Mom, I just really need to leave, I don’t want to be in this school anymore.’ I pushed him until he told me what it was.”
Hardwick went back to South Seneca Middle School and met with the assistant principal later that day. Hardwick then returned home and contacted the parents of children whose names she said she knew were on the list.
“I started reaching out to some of the other parents that I knew have their kids on the list to let them know,” said Hardwick.
Related: NYSED cancels Regents exam in U.S. History & Government, cites Buffalo tragedy as factor in decision
The Facebook post was then circulated amongst South Seneca parents and community members, some of whom expressed concerns over the way the incident earlier this month was handled by the district.
FingerLakes1.com reached out to South Seneca schools Superintendent Steve Zielinski, who acknowledged that an incident occurred on May 17 at the middle school.
“Administrators learned of the situation very quickly and were in consultation with everyone involved immediately. Individual phone calls began with parents directly affected within an hour,” said Zielinski. “In all situations like this, an immediate assessment is done about any threat of danger, both in the moment and into the future. There was no instant in this case where anyone was in danger. This is always the first priority— student safety is our utmost concern at all times.”
On May 18, parents aired their concerns at a school board meeting. Zielinski issued a statement the following day, where he outlined the two most frequent concerns that had been part of conversations with parents over the last few days:
How does the district “process information when someone makes a threat against others, or behaves in such a way that is perceived as a threat?” and, when should the district issue a notice to the community about a threat, versus “a decision to communicate with a smaller circle of people?”
Related: Gov. Hochul seeks to raise purchase age for AR-15s
Law enforcement response
Hardwick said she contacted the Seneca County Sheriff’s Office the day of the incident. An officer was sent to the middle school later that day.
FingerLakes1.com reached out to Seneca County Sheriff Timothy Luce, who provided the following general statement on how school threats involving juveniles are handled:
“We conduct a thorough investigation in cooperation with school and mental health officials. We take and facilitate appropriate action to remediate the situation. Actions taken may include implementation of mental health services, preventative safety measures and referrals to programs and services.”
Following the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, Sheriff Luce said officers had been directed to make routine checks as much as possible during the school day at area schools.
Related: Local police expand presence in schools after shooting in Texas
Open meeting June 9
Zielinski issued another statement on Wednesday, May 25, the day after the shooting in Texas. He clarified that South Seneca has a contract with the Sheriff’s Office to supply a School Resource Officer to the district every school day.
“It should be well understood that although Deputy McNabb is primarily assigned to us as our SRO, our contract is not with one person but with the office itself, and SCSO provides other deputies any time Deputy McNabb is deployed elsewhere. Our communication with the Sheriff’s Office is daily, and they provide dedicated attention to our buildings every school day,” stated Zielinski.
He acknowledged the urging from some parents for “a second dedicated deputy so that we can provide a regular presence in each of our buildings at all times.”
On June 9, South Seneca parents plan to attend an open meeting with Zielinski and the School Board, Hardwick told me, to discuss the deployment of a second school resource officer.
She said her son had her read a statement at the May 18 Board meeting.
“When I found out my name was on the list I was so scared. I don’t want to live in fear when another kid does the same thing. I want to go to school which I love and feel safe. I don’t want to die,” reads an excerpt from his statement.