Good evening. My name is Roger Neustadt and I have three children in the Scarsdale Schools. I am extremely concerned about the level of security provided to our children.
Clearly the BoE and School Administration share this concern as a director of security for the schools started this Fall and security vestibules are slated for installation in our school buildings. If the threat of harm was not real, there would be no need for these and other measures. School shootings are real. They occur and they are perpetrated in communities that look far more like Scarsdale than the Bronx. Some of the more horrific were in Columbine, Newtown and Parkland. They are suburban communities much like our Village.
I am concerned that we are not doing enough to protect our most vulnerable, our most precious, our children. We are not doing enough and we are not doing it quickly enough. Altaris identified a serious issue with respect to access to our school buildings and I am pleased that security vestibules will be installed. They will be installed in two years. I have seen no proposals to mitigate this identified risk in the interim. Are we to cross our fingers and hope nothing bad happens for the next two years? Certainly, there are steps we can take to better control access to our schools. Why is nothing being done today?
It is uncommon at best to enter a place of work in anywhere in this country that does not have strict entry control, an armed security presence (either seen or unseen), the ability to lock down elevators and additional access control for each office even after gaining admittance to a building, among many other security precautions. Our employers and commercial landlords generally do a thorough job of protecting us while we are at work. I would venture to say that most of us have burglar alarm systems to better secure our homes while we sleep. The frequency of mass shootings in workplaces pales in comparison to shootings at our nation's schools. Yet we do so much less to protect our most vulnerable. There is no way to perfectly secure our schools yet why are we so cautious in mitigating risk?
Our new director of school security, who I recently met, has much to worry about and many perspectives to consider. Has this individual been certified as a School Resource Officer by the National Association of School Resource Officers? This would entail a 40-hour course which covers these topics:
Ethics and the SRO
The SRO as a Teacher/Guest Speaker
Understanding Special Needs Students
The SRO as an Informal Counselor/Mentor
Social Media and Cyber Safety
Understanding the Teen Brain
Violence and Victimization
Sex Trafficking of Youth
Developing and Supporting Successful Relationships with Diverse Students
Effects of Youth Trends and Drugs on the School Culture and Environment
Threat Response: Preventing Violence in School Settings
School Safety and Emergency Operations Plan
Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design
The subject of threats is number twelve on the list of topics. Nowhere is there mention of firearms training. The SRO can be a great resource for our schools. I am not advocating for the placement of SWAT officers carrying semi-automatic weapons, patrolling the hallways. These officers can wear polo shirts and conceal their handguns. There is no requirement for full uniforms with visible sidearms.
I would hope that the person charged with overseeing our school security has at least completed the nationally recognized curriculum covering security in the schools. I have some concerns about the director of security position, not the man filling that role. Has SRO course attendance been mandated or confirmed? Is the public aware that our director of school security is a full-time employee of Altaris, not the school district? Was there a public posting for the position or did Altaris simply choose one of their employees? I can factually represent to the Board that a former Scarsdale Police Sergeant submitted his resume. He spent 20 years serving this community, knows the police officers, knows the community and knows the schools. For some reason, his candidacy did not even garner an interview. Does this clear conflict of interest not trouble you? As this person is first and foremost an employee of Altaris, the opportunity for disparate views and new ideas outside the Altaris fold is necessarily limited. I want our director of security to have no loyalty beyond our schools and our children; no employment beyond our school district. Is Mike the best person for the job? He may very well be but we will never know that as there was never an open search for the position. There is no one in our schools everyday that arrives, stays and leaves thinking only about safety. Every school building should have someone physically present who is focused entirely on safety and security. In today’s world it is unfortunately and simply necessary.
I am advocating for the placement of School Resource Officers in all of our schools. I fully recognize that having an armed police officer in our schools generates very strong emotional responses on both sides. Make no mistake though, there are already armed police officers in our schools. As I understand the status quo, Scarsdale police officers visit our schools on an irregular basis, as time allows based on their other duties. They are walking the halls, yes, armed with handguns. To the best of my knowledge, our kids do not come home saying how frightened they were to see a police officer in the school. I for one want my children to know that the police are their friends, people to whom they can turn in times of trouble. I would rather have a regular, friendly face walking through the schools, greeting children by name, giving high fives and a friendly hello, rather than a stranger in a uniform once in a while. I am not here advocating a new concept. I want to see the present situation expanded to encompass the entire school day.
It is for another day and perhaps additional forums to debate the benefits and drawbacks of this idea but there can be no delay in starting a serious discussion. Ultimately, I believe that it for us, the Scarsdale Community and us, the parents, to decide how to protect our children. The danger is real and present. I would never forgive myself if a tragedy unfolded and we could have done more to protect our kids. The implications of failing to act will last the rest of our lives.
I have done a great deal of research on this issue and am happy to discuss the various concerns involved with anyone who is interested. Much as it is very difficult to discuss religion and politics, it is frustrating to discuss this issue from a purely emotional perspective. Does God exist? There is no objective right or wrong. We are all entitled to our opinions and to be heard. A constructive discussion however, is based on fact and not misinformation or baseless hysteria on either side. I sincerely hope, that in the not too distant future, the citizens of Scarsdale will have an opportunity to weigh in on this issue and make the right decision for our Village.
I'd like to leave you with one final thought. My older son attends the Middle School and last year there was a threat of violence on a particular day. Some parents chose to keep their children home (they agreed that the danger was real). We did not. My son came home that afternoon and told me that he and his friends had never felt so safe at school as they saw a visible police presence. I, for one, would be very interested in hearing what our students have to say about this. They are bright, interested and well able to express their opinions.
Thank you sincerely for allowing me the forum and the time to address this vital issue.