Some local school districts say they will continue to implement boosted security measures put in place following Friday’s Newtown, CT shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“The challenge is to make our schools (which were not built with top security in mind) safe for our staff and students while at the same time, continuing to make them welcoming for our parents and community,” said Hastings-on-Hudson Superintendent Dr. Roy Montesano. “ I am sure there are additional measures that will we will need to consider.”
When Hastings Schools heard about the Connecticut tragedy doors to all of the school district's buildings were locked with one main entry and exit for each building. Police presence was increased in and around the district’s buildings. Hastings is still locking its doors and is having someone meet visitors at the main entry who will escort them to the main office to obtain a visitor’s badge.
Montesano said the district is currently in the process of changing door locks on the outside entrances to have them open with swipe card IDs. Administrators and some staff members also currently carry around walkie-talkies for prompt communication. The school does have emergency plans in place that are practiced regularly during lock down drills. As of Monday, the district began reviewing its emergency plans with faculty.
“The process [of re-evaulating safety measures] has already started and will continue as we seek to strive the right balance of safety and a welcoming school environment,” said Montesano.
Irvington schools said it also increased safety measures since Friday and will continue them for the foreseeable future to ensure optimal student safety.
“In light of this tragedy, school districts throughout the nation, ours included, are currently in the process of re-evaluating security procedures and protocols,” said Irvington Superintendent Dr. Kristopher Harrison. “Please note that for our district in particular, district administrators are meeting with the individual building principals and the security team to discuss current procedures and whether changes or improvements should be considered. We will also continue to collaborate with the local police to ensure a secure environment for our students. As always, the safety of our students is the district’s top priority. We will continue to remain vigilant and do everything in our power to keep them safe.”
Harrison said the district also has an extensive security plan that addresses a variety of scenarios and that any changes to its safety measures will be vetted by security professionals.
“The plan, which is practiced through a series of drills, was developed specifically for our community to accommodate the uniqueness of each facility,” said Harrison. “Communication and vigilance are key components of safety. We must strive to provide safe learning environments, maintain close relationships with law enforcement agencies, and communicate all concerns with appropriate parties.”
Dobbs Ferry Schools hired a security consultant, David Connors Security Services, last spring to review and make safety recommendations for the districts three schools. Connors, a retired New York State police office, spent a week inspecting district buildings and meeting with school staff. An extensive report was presented to administrators in the summer.
The consultant is expected to share the report at the Thursday, Dec. 20 Dobbs Ferry Board of Education during an executive work session.
“The Board will be meeting with the consultant in closed executive session because of the importance of keeping school security recommendations private,” said Dobbs Ferry Superintendent Lisa Brady, in a Dec. 17 statement. “All schools must be mindful of the sensitive nature of security ‘intelligence.’ Specific precautions related to areas that might post a potential threat could inadvertently be shared with someone who may use this information for malicious intent.”
After the meeting the board plans to implement short and long-term action plans that strengthen security. The district also plans to hold a meeting for parents and community members after the first year to discuss safety in general and the audit by Connors Security.
“Please know that our students’ and staff’s safety is our number one priority at all times, and we continue to reinforce our security procedures and policies on an ongoing basis,” said Brady.
Some individuals like Hastings-on-Hudson parent Kenji Greene and Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner said police officers should be put in every school.
"All we have to do is put one cop in each school during the school hours, we can't do that for our kids?," said Greene, who has a 2-year-old and niece who attended Hastings-on-Hudson High School. "Schools need to set up something. No one should come into a school during the school hours without going though check points (parents,the milkman, a friend of a teacher, whoever). It's not a lock down, it's a keep out!"
Harrison agrees that school districts having close relationships with local law enforcement is very valuable.
“Such an initiative welcomes a broader conversion with stakeholders to make the very best decision for our schools,” said Harrison.
Montesano agrees that police presence is beneficial, but questions how the measure would be funded.
“There was a program recently to try and place SRO's (school resource officers) in our schools,” said Montesano. “Obviously this places a strain on already tight budgets at the school and municipal levels. We are very fortunate in Hastings to have a great working relationship with our local police department. Information is shared regularly and police are welcome in our schools. Chief Bloomer works well with our staff, and is generous with his time and sharing of information.”