Comments to the Board of Education, October 22, 2018
My name is Roger Neustadt and I live on Franklin Rd. I have three school-aged children in the Scarsdale Public Schools.
As you know, I am part of the Scarsdale Coalition for Safer Schools. We are advocating for increased security measures in our school facilities and the hiring of School Resource Officers, SROs, for each school building.
I am here today to implore this group to undertake a rigorous investigation before forming opinions on this proposal. At the last meeting of the Board of Education, reference to a recent CDC study was made in support of the perspective that school shootings were in fact on the decline. I noted many nodding heads at the table when those statistics were cited. That troubled me greatly. The CDC study referenced was the School-Associated Violent Death Study. This study focused on just that, deaths. Firearm incidents in which there were no deaths, merely injuries, were excluded from the study. Firearm incidents in which there were no injuries were also excluded. Finally, the study only looked at incidents through 2010. I’m sure that many parents would agree that incidents in which students were injured are just as relevant as those incidents in which an individual died. Furthermore, I have prepared a graph of school shooting incidents, based on information from Wikipedia, and a review of the source material. I have excluded those shootings that did not occur at an elementary, middle or high school. It does appear, as was cited from the CDC report, that incidents did remain somewhat stable through the studied period, 2010. You will note though that 2010 marked one of lowest years since then. Who is providing objective research to the Board and the District? You owe it to my children, and the children of this district, not to take statistics at face value and to do the work to form a factually-based opinion on the use of SROs avoiding headlines and hyperbole. My kids’ lives may depend on it.
A quick word on the prevalence of security personnel in schools across the country. The National Center for Education Statistics published a report in March, 2018 entitled “Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2017.” This report revealed that the percentage of public schools reporting the presence of sworn law enforcement officials was 48 % vs. 36% ten years earlier. Presence of a specially trained school resource officer stood at 42% vs. 32% a year earlier. It seems that Scarsdale stands in bottom 50 – 60% with respect to this security initiative that is finding greater acceptance nationwide. The percentage of public schools reporting the use of security cameras increased to 81%. Are these used to any great degree in all seven of our school buildings? Multiple sources have named Scarsdale the wealthiest school district in the nation yet we are in the bottom half when it comes to employing police to protect our schools. How did we get so far behind?
The parent grapevine has revealed (perhaps incorrectly) that the new security vestibules will be manned by security officers. Will the District hire an outside firm to provide these people? Will they be required to have completed the School Safety Officer Course, a three-day course designed for security officers that will work in schools? Has anyone in this district completed the National Safe School Accreditation’s Certified School Safety Professional Designation? Is the District aware that there are several degree programs in School Safety and Security Administration? Is there anyone in the District so trained? Do we know if anyone at Altaris has this specialized education? Schools have different considerations that other buildings. A question for Mike and Stuart, does each and every Scarsdale Police Officer have keys to every school building? What if someone can’t open the door during an incident?
For the present I’d like to touch on one last point that has been raised by a large number of our subscribers. At the last Board meeting, the ideas of user experience and school culture were stressed. All proposals must be evaluated with due consideration of the impact of user experience. At the risk of sounding sensationalist, the sight of small coffins will do far more to impact user experience. That aside, the District is installing security vestibules, I believe over the Summer. Another term commonly used in the security industry is man trap. It is designed to contain any visitor in a controlled room until their identity can be confirmed and they can be safely admitted into a facility. This security “room” (for lack of a better term) will confront each and every visitor to the school. I would think that it will have laminated or impact resistant glass which is readily visible. The presence of one police officer who will be at various locations within the school building, and whom a visitor may never see, poses far less of an impact on the user experience that a security vestibule. Additionally, an SRO can provide security beyond the front door, to include the outside of the building at recess, morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up as well as perimeter inspection throughout the day.
In an effort to keep my comments shorter this time, I will conclude by saying that there are many emotional objections to the thought of placing police officers in our schools, all of which may have validity. The only factual, objective drawback to an SRO program is budgetary. Let the community speak, by their votes, on whether this potential safety expenditure is a priority for them.