Editorial, Scarsdale Inquirer
Friday, January 11, 2019
Safer tomorrow, now
Leaders of the Scarsdale school district will hear, once again, at the school board meeting on Monday, a monthly update on school security. Ten days later, on Jan. 23, the community will convene at a public forum with key players on hand to discuss local needs and concerns about security.
Keeping our schools safe is an ongoing topic of discussion because we know the threat of school violence is not going away any time soon. School officials are taking steps to improve school safety. Edgemont recently added unarmed security guards as part of its school security plan. Scarsdale hired a full-tiime security consultant and has stepped up its vetting of visitors by security guards at school entrances. This summer the district will break ground to build security vestibules at our elementary school entryways to preempt possible attempts to penetrate the schools.
But, as evidenced in letters to the editor and comments at school board meetings, many residents are hungry for more immediate measures to enhance building security. Some have pushed to add school resource officers (SROs)—certified, armed law enforcement officers specially trained to work among students. Others have called out the schools for allowing unlocked or unattended doors, for not mandating teachers in all Scarsdale school buildings wear ID badges; and after a bomb scare at Quaker Ridge School last fall, some questioned whether the incident was dealt with swiftly and professionally enough.
Our local school administrators and school board members have a responsibility to develop a solid security plan and to respond to parents’ expectations. Scarsdale is being judicious with safety measures, working to guard students and teachers in ways that everyone can agree are helpful while avoiding controversial ideas such as arming teachers or hiring armed guards. An overall assessment provided by security consultants at Altaris is guiding decisions on safety improvements and has helped district administrators identify more than 50 priority items related to security. Some of those are being fast tracked, others reviewed in part or in full.
Hiring consultants, reviewing reports and building consensus is traditionally what we do in Scarsdale. But in this case, being too cautious—too committed to transparency or process—carries risks. Failing to act or acting too slowly can have a very high cost.
The tradeoff for making schools safer may be less transparency and more immediate action. But it’s better to make our children safe than to have everyone agree.
The recommendations put forth by the Scarsdale Coalition for Safer Security should be the basis for the district’s security strategy. Take those 21 points and the best of the district’s own priorities, then start tomorrow. Move swiftly to equip doors with alarms, install bulletproof windows or apply anti-shatter window coatings, and provide all teachers with mandatory ID badges and emergency key fob systems. (Don’t arm the teachers and don’t hire armed guards, because research suggests that has little effect on the security of schools.)
Implement the critically needed steps to address and prevent school security threats as soon as possible.
Take immediate action to ensure safer schools
By Roger K. Neustadt
The Scarsdale Coalition for Safer Security calls for the Scarsdale School District administration and the board of education to take immediate steps to better protect our children in school. While we appreciate the list of 50-plus items cited by the district as security improvements, a quick review of the items clearly shows many are related to student comfort and not building security. Ensuring there is adequate foul weather gear is certainly beneficial, but it does nothing to improve security. Item 26 on the district list—requiring all staff wear ID tags—can’t even be accomplished with consistency, as the high school faculty does not wear them.
We have prepared a noncomprehensive list of 21 items with direct impact on security and urge the district to move quickly to evaluate and adopt these measures. The first 6 items are endorsed by the 2018 Final Report of the Federal Commission on School Safety.
1. Shatterproof film on all ground level windows and doors.
2. Install shatterproof film on all internal, classroom door windows to prevent an aggressor from accessing a door lock by reaching through a broken window.
3. Install window shades or reflective film on all classroom windows to prevent an aggressor from seeing inside a classroom from the exterior of the building.
4. Install shades on all classroom door windows to prevent an aggressor from seeing inside a locked classroom door.
5. Camera systems in all schools to be monitored by the police dispatcher; there is no school employee who will be sitting at a desk all day watching the cameras. Furthermore, if there is an incident, the police dispatcher can direct responding officers more accurately if they are watching an incident in real-time.
6. Camera system should cover the perimeter of the school and not just the front door. Children at play during recess should be covered by any external camera system.
7. Install boulders to prevent cars from entering areas in which children are at play/fields/front doors.
8. Integrate the Scarsdale Police Department in all areas of emergency and security planning. This should include building and district security committees and the district emergency response team (DERT) as well.
9. Maintain a specified minimum physical police presence at our schools during each school day.
10. Adopt technology that allows any staff member to initiate a lockdown from any location in or out of the building and that automatically notifies the police, eliminating any notification delay. Incidents don’t just happen near a phone.
11. Have a staff member periodically check the perimeter of the building looking for unattended packages and pulling on the doors from the exterior to ensure they are closed and the locks are functioning.
12. Institute on-site ID screening for all contractors and subcontractors working at any school building.
13. Install a “door-open” monitoring system that alerts a central station if a door has been left open too long (due to a malfunction, failure to close fully or being propped open) so the situation can be corrected and the school re-secured.
14. Lock all schools and monitor all entrances, even during after-school activities; the district is responsible when school is in session or when after-school activities take place—and children deserve the same level of protection regardless of the time of day.
15. Close the rear parking lot at Quaker Ridge during the school day. It is unmonitored and there is no permissible entrance from that area, except when children return from recess.
16. Include local security experts—parents who are more knowledgeable than anyone on the school board or in the administration—directly and meaningfully in the process. This would go a long way toward alleviating concerns and creating transparency for a number of concerned parents.
17. Investigate and implement an anonymous reporting system that allows students to report bullying, socially isolated students, etc.—such systems are readily available on smartphone platforms.
18. Hire a second school security company to perform an audit of the work and recommendations of Altaris. The SCSS and other community organizers would be willing to bear the cost. There is simply no downside to this exercise, which could help identify additional potential improvements and could be done even if we are committed to Altaris for the foreseeable future.
19. Hire a full-time director of security for the district, employed by the district. There are degree programs in school security administration graduating excellent, specialized candidates. The school security problem is not going away and will necessitate a long-term commitment of highly specialized resources. Utilizing an Altaris employee in this role guarantees that there will never be a second opinion offered on any recommended measure.
20. If the district cannot solve the cellular reception issues are certain buildings in short order, we are certain that there are community members who could help. It is inconceivable that Verizon, AT&T and Sprint would want to be in any way responsible for exacerbation of an incident at a school if they were aware of reception issues. We are happy to reach out to our membership—and certainly the Scarsdale PT Council would do the same—to find a contact at the cellular companies so this issue can be remedied forthwith.
21. Require the wearing of ID badges. Scarsdale High School teachers refuse to wear ID tags. Apparently, this is not an issue in the elementary or middle schools. If this is a security/safety issue, as identified by Altaris, the district must require the wearing of badges.
Roger Neustadt is a member of the organizing committee of the Scarsdale Coalition for Safer Security.