Outcry Over Firing Goes Global

GiGi Kearns, former supervisor of the SCOPE program’s after-school activities at Dickinson Avenue Elementary School in East Northport, was fired after a May 22 incident.

GiGi Kearns, former supervisor of the SCOPE program’s after-school activities at Dickinson Avenue Elementary School in East Northport, was fired after a May 22 incident.

Weeks after the supervisor of an after-school program in East Northport who claims she was fired over her handling of a school lockdown drill, the story of Northport’s GiGi Kearns has gone around the world.

Kearns, a former NYPD youth officer who worked for SCOPE for 15 years, said she was fired after a parent complained about how she explained aspects of the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting during a lockdown drill at Dickinson Avenue Elementary School. 

Since then, the story has gone global, and web outlets including Wonkette, Salon and The Huffington Post have picked up the story.  

In an interview Tuesday, Kearns said she’s incredibly touched by the outpouring of support since her firing. Kearns said those supporters include families in Connecticut who had students in Sandy Hook Elementary School the day of the shooting. 

“It literally gives me goose bumps, the amount of support and love,” she said.

East Northport’s Aya Blaney, whose eight-year-old son was in the classroom May 22, launched a petition calling for Stearns’ reinstatement. As of Tuesday evening, the petition had over 1,400 signatures. 

“It’s very poorly mismanaged and unfair,” Blaney said of Kearns’ firing. “We’re all very upset.”  

Kearns said a meeting with SCOPE executive director George Duffy III broke no new ground. She said he told her that he would further investigate the incident; she said she hasn’t heard back since then.

SCOPE has said little about Kearns’ firing since the story broke at the end of May.  

“We are aware of and appreciate the concerns brought to our attention by several parents,” Duffy III said in a statement. “However, as this is a matter of personnel, we are legally prohibited from discussing the details associated with this decision. All decisions are made in the best interest of the children attending our programs.” 

Deirdre Gilligan, a spokesperson for SCOPE, said Tuesday that no update was available. 

Kearns, a former NYPD youth officer on the force for eight years, said that the incident began when she was directed to conduct a lock-down drill on May 22, for which Kearns said she was given no formal guidelines. 

The lockdown drill is a new requirement of agencies licensed by the New York State Office of Children and Family Services to hold a stay-in-place lockdown drill.  

During the drill, which involved 31 students, Kearns said six boys were misbehaving. 

“The kids had never done it before, so they were giggling because it’s kind of weird,” she said.

According to Kearns, another student shouted for the boys to cut it out, and said the drill was happening because of Sandy Hook. After the drill was over, Kearns said she took the six boys aside to talk about their behavior. That was when one of the boys asked, “What’s Sandy Hook?” Kearns said she offered an explanation suitable for her young pupils. 

“This was me talking about safety, and Sandy Hook kind of came into it,” she said.

One of the students asked to see a picture of the gunman, Adam Lanza, which she downloaded. She also showed the students a picture of the evacuation of the elementary school.

None of the images were graphic, she said, but a decision to show SWAT teams responding to the school was an effort to highlight the helpers who responded to the tragedy.

“The whole idea was to show them – “we’re going to protect you,” she said. “Then, we went into what I would do to protect them.” 

After the discussion, she informed each of the boys’ parents of what had happened. None had an issue with her explanation, except for one parent, according to Kearns. 

On May 26, Kearns was told to report to SCOPE’s main office, where she was informed of the complaint and put on leave until May 29. On that day, she was fired.

Kearns argues the investigation was not sufficiently thorough, and Blanley said that SCOPE acted rashly and has kept parents in the dark since then. 

“Everything just happened so quickly,” she said.

Now, with 15 years at SCOPE apparently behind her, Kearns is working on picking up the pieces. She hopes to find another job in which she can help kids.

She has no regrets about her actions, and said she’d do it all over again exactly the same way.

“I might have walked away from this with no job, but I walked away from this with a heart full of love,” she said.