Sweet Home School District officials Wednesday held a special forum for parents to learn more about the district's safety and security policies after a 15-year-old sophomore was accused of plotting a Columbine-style attack at the high school.
About 125 parents and students attended the forum in the high school auditorium in Amherst, many seeking assurances that the youth will not be permitted to return to school.
"What is foreseeable is that he is out definitely for the rest of the school year and probably for the rest of his high school education," said School Superintendent Geoffrey Hicks.
The boy, whose identity is being kept confidential by police and school officials, is a Town of Tonawanda resident and special-education student. Earlier this week, he admitted in Erie County Family Court to having possessed bombmaking materials and instructional items that were seized from his home March 23. He is being held in a county youth-detention facility, where a judge could decide to sentence him for an additional 12 months.
Some parents expressed anxiety over whether the boy could legally be permanently barred from the school. Hicks said that the district, by law, is responsible for finding an appropriate educational placement for the boy upon his release from detention but insisted that it is highly unlikely the boy will ever return to the school.
"Multiple authorities have to tell us he is no longer a danger to himself or anyone else. I don't see that happening," Hicks said. "What I'm asking is for you to trust us that we will do the right thing to keep your children safe."
Linda Marshall of the Town of Tonawanda, whose son attends the high school, lauded the district for quickly informing parents by letter of the teen's arrest over the spring break but wondered if the district could not do more to ensure the safety of students.
"I'm not so sure metal detectors are so overboard. Once you get used to it, you kind of accept it," Marshall said.
However, Eric Adamski of Amherst expressed concern that such measures could be a slippery slope.
"If we give the culture of fear power, it will rule our lives forever," Adamski said.
Others parents inquired about the measures being taken by the district to detect troubled youngsters, who may be loners or picked on, to ensure that they get the help they need.
"It's easy to let some kids fall through the cracks, but we work proactively to make sure that doesn't happen," said Principal Suzanne Thomas.
She and Hicks were joined at Wednesday's forum by Amherst Assistant Police Chief Ronald Hagelberger and Detective Michael Torrillo, who answered questions about the investigation and the relationship the Police Department has developed with the school administrators. School administrators and police had been working together on the investigation since early in the school year, Hicks said.