Forest Hills middle schooler brings air pistol to campus

Russell Sage parents feel situation was ‘mishandled,’ sparking safety concerns

By Jessica Meditz

Russell Sage Junior High School is at 68-17 Austin St. Photo: Google Maps.

Parents of students attending Russell Sage Junior High School in Forest Hills were alarmed to hear that their child’s school went on lockdown due to the possibility of there being a weapon on campus.

Police say that on the morning of Jan. 31, officers responded to a call about a possible firearm inside the building.

When they arrived, a Russell Sage staff member reported that a 12-year-old male student was in possession of an imitation firearm (air pistol) in his backpack.

The boy was taken into custody and removed to the 112th Precinct across the street from the school, but was released to his parents on a juvenile report.

Parents told the Forest Hills Times that the 12-year-old was in school the next day, and feel that the faculty’s communication with them in regard to the incident was insufficient.

One parent, who asked to remain anonymous, questioned, “What, if anything, is [Russell Sage] doing to ensure that these students don’t continue to bring weapons to school?”

“The administration continues to dodge that particular aspect of any communication that’s been requested,” she added.

The parent, who’s the mother of three Russell Sage students – two in sixth grade and one in eighth grade – feels completely disappointed in the school’s handling of the incident and refuses to send her children back to school until better communication and a commitment to student safety are implemented.

She said that after receiving the email about the school going on lockdown around 11:30 a.m., she dropped everything and made her way to ensure her children were safe.

Upon arrival, she was told by a school security guard that the lockdown was triggered by a “false fire alarm.”

A bit later in the day, an email was circulated to parents saying that the Building Response Team took possession of a BB gun, the NYPD took over the investigation and that the school was locked down for approximately 10 minutes.

“All students [and] staff members are safe and unharmed. Regular school functions have resumed,” the email read. “The safety of Sage students remains our first priority and we commit to remaining ever diligent in this regard. Bringing a weapon to any NYC Public School is strictly prohibited. The Chancellor’s Regulations regarding this offense will be strictly adhered to.”

At dismissal, the mother approached Russell Sage’s principal, John Greggo, who told her that the security guard’s statement regarding a false fire alarm was inappropriate and simply untrue, leaving her to feel uneasy.

“My reaction to the way that they handled it is definitely disappointment. There could be clear, consistent communication about facts that they are allowed to reveal that don’t violate any pending investigation or current student’s rights,” she said.

School administration told parents that there will be a town hall meeting on Feb. 15 regarding student safety.

“I don’t feel comfortable allowing [my children] to go back to school until the school administration addresses, in as much detail as they can, their plan for security,” the parent said. “We’re just asking the question, ‘What are you doing to keep the students safe in the meantime?’ They’re not getting back to us. How can we, as parents, support the school administration if we’re not being told anything?”

Elaina Starr, the mother of a 12-year-old seventh grader, said she feels horrified regarding the school’s communication strategy regarding this issue.

Starr said she received only a text message signed by Greggo at 11:54 a.m., stating that “the lockdown has been lifted.” She was not aware of any incident that happened in the first place, and even checked her spam messages to ensure she hadn’t missed anything.

“I feel like there’s no transparency, and I brought it to the school’s attention,” she said.

Starr, 34, also attended Russell Sage Junior High School as a child. She feels that the school’s communication process with parents has taken a turn for the worse since she went there.

“When there were fights, or anything, parents would get called right in and have a sit-down with both families,” she explained. “Now they don’t do it that way.”

She feels especially concerned about student safety given that her son experienced bullying at Russell Sage last year. Starr said the bullying got physical, claiming that her son was shoved, pushed down a flight of stairs, hit in the mouth and had his glasses broken.

She hopes her alma mater will take a more proactive approach when it comes to violence and bullying.

“I feel like there’s really a discrepancy between what kids are saying to each other versus what they’re telling their parents, and then what [the school] is not telling the parents and how they’re proceeding to handle situations of bullying and violence,” she said. “Because last year, I don’t feel that my son’s situation was handled properly.”

Russell Sage Junior High School did not respond to a request for comment.