Cayuga County sheriff visits Parkland, talks school safety | #schoolsaftey

Cayuga County Sheriff Brian Schenck recently toured the site of one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history, and wants to use what he learned to make local schools safer.

On Oct. 14, Schenck was one of about 200 people from 25 states who toured Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in the Miami suburb of Parkland, Florida, ahead of the building’s demolition next summer. Seventeen people were killed there by a former student in February 2018, 14 of them students and the other three faculty.

The sheriff told The Citizen he plans to use what he learned from the visit to improve safety at local schools, which has been a focus of his office in recent years. The office has retired officers working as school resource officers in the Moravia, Port Byron, Union Springs and Weedsport school districts, as well as a full-time sheriff’s deputy at the Cayuga-Onondaga BOCES campus.

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Schenck said his visit to Parkland resulted from a sheriffs’ conference in Albany a few years ago. He heard a presentation there from Max Schachter, whose 14-year-old son, Alex, was murdered in the shooting. Schenck then reached out to Schachter, who has founded the nonprofit Safe Schools for Alex, to discuss the Cayuga County Sheriff’s Office’s work on school and community safety. 

Schachter has connected the office with helpful resources, Schenck said, and a few weeks ago invited the sheriff to tour Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Schenck and other school and law enforcement officials were joined by Schachter and other parents whose children died in the 2018 shooting, learning “exactly what happened on that tragic day,” the sheriff said.

Cayuga County Sheriff Brian Schenck

He also learned “things that we can do to certainly make our schools safer, that really apply to any school, no matter where it’s located,” he said. “It was a very difficult thing for me to walk through that building and see what happened there, but I just really appreciate the opportunity to learn from that experience and to bring that knowledge back.”

Specifically, Schenck learned more about Florida’s passage of safety laws and creation of school procedures in the wake of the shooting. He noted the state’s mandate that all schools have armed security, and praised its work to standardize behavioral threat assessment and management. That identifies “individuals that are going down a path that may lead to violence and trying to intervene,” he said, noting the Parkland shooter had prior contact with mental health personnel and law enforcement. Better management therefore might have prevented the tragedy, he continued.

Since the start of the 2022 school year, the sheriff has worked with the Cayuga County Community Mental Health Center, the county Department of Social Services and other local stakeholders on local behavioral threat assessment and management. He said he’s grateful he was able to learn from what happened in Parkland in order to try to prevent it from happening in Cayuga County.

“It was made possible by the parents of many of these victims who wanted to allow people from across the country to come to learn from this tragedy, to bring something positive from the terrible, terrible, horrific thing that happened,” Schenck said. “I’m very sorry for their loss.”

Staff writer Kelly Rocheleau can be reached at (315) 282-2243 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @KellyRocheleau.

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