HAMBURG — Frontier Central School students got an unexpected day off of school on Oct. 7, but the unplanned school closing left officials with a mess to clean up and a culprit to pursue.
Interim Superintendent Paul Hashem said that he received a phone call from the school’s transportation director, early on the rainy Monday morning, with the information that many of the school’s buses had been the target of vandalism.
According to the town of Hamburg Police Department, “an unknown suspect or suspects had forced the fence gate where the buses are stored.”
The vehicles had been tagged with graffiti, including spray-painted profanities. Route slips used by drivers had been ripped up and the buses’ fire extinguishers had been shot out, covering the inside of the vehicles with chemicals. “It was obvious that we couldn’t have school,” Hashem said. “We could never get ready in time, so we decided to close the school.”
The staff members enacted their emergency closing procedure and all of the district schools were closed.
Chief Information Officer Deborah Gromek sent a robocall to all district students and the two assistant school superintendents informed personnel, as well as the local TV and radio stations, that school was canceled. “Everyone is eventually notified, all the way down the line,” Hashem said. “Anyone who has to do with the schools during the day was contacted, including recreation, the community [and] athletics.”
While students stayed home for the day, staff members were still asked to report to work.
“We have 96 buses and, at any one time, at least 90 of them are in service, at all of our schools and the non-public and out-of-district placements,” Hashem said. “We had a massive mess.”
The superintendent said that the buses were cleaned, later in the day, and were ready for school on Tuesday.
School Resource Officer and town of Hamburg Police Officer Dennis Horrigan assisted with investigating the situation and helped review the security tapes, “to see if we can find out who was responsible,” Hashem said.
“If we find out who’s responsible, we will press charges and seek monetary restitution,” he added.
A previously organized meeting to discuss the school’s emergency closing procedure went on as planned. Hashem said that his goal is to determine how to prevent this type of act from happening again and how to further protect the school.
“We’ll use this as an opportunity for a learning experience,” he said. “It was a negative thing and we’ll do what we can to turn it positive for the future.”
The town of Hamburg Police Department later confirmed that 18-year-old Andrew Lathrop of Hamburg had been charged with burglary, criminal mischief and criminal tampering for his actions in connection with this school vandalism.
According to the department, “Lathrop was identified by Hamburg Police patrol officers from video security surveillance at the school. Lathrop was questioned by detectives ... and was subsequently charged.”