School Security Update and Concerns
We have been working behind the scenes, continuing to press for the adoption of improved security policies and protocols. We have been successful in several important and impactful respects, as the school district has improved its vigilance and tone on the topic. Additionally, the school district is actively evaluating a variety of products and protocols that will help lift Scarsdale schools out of the security deficit that our administrators currently operate in. We look forward to more progress this spring and summer.
However, there are several critical recommendations that we have made that for whatever reason have effectively been rejected:
· Our request for the formation of a small panel of resident security experts that could help inform the district and the board prior to making long-term decisions
· Our request for an independent security firm (not our consultant, Altaris) to periodically audit our district’s security plans and procedures has been dismissed. Currently we are beholden to the recommendations and execution of a single, for profit firm, with no checks and balances
Both ideas improve our security credentials, mitigate risks, and come to us at no or limited cost. While a periodic audit would cost something, it might even save money if it identified inefficiencies or redundancies. Our District Administration and Board of Education do not have school security experts on staff. As such they are levered to the recommendations and work of our district’s security consultant, Altaris, which is understandable. However, the result of this means that a single firm is (1) setting security policy and making recommendations, (2) hiring itself to execute on these recommendations, and then (3) assessing its own performance/execution in reviews of the policies and procedures. As some may know, auditing your own work in the financial community isn’t just frowned upon, it is actually illegal, and we consider security a more highly levered issue. We don’t understand why the District and Board are resistant to improving their knowledge base and having more information at their disposal to make critical decisions, or why they are so wedded to a single security firm – which won the business without a process or even an RFP – to make all security decisions for our schools with no informed checks and balances.
In other business, as most are aware, we have been working since March of last year to improve the access control situation at Quaker Ridge, and later Heathcote. These two buildings presented unusually problematic entry issues, significant enough that new doorways were recommended and approved. Yet no plan was made to address the identified security weakness in the interim (~2 years). After much discussion and opposition by the District Administration and the Board, security monitors have now been placed at the entrance to these two buildings to control the flow in and out of the buildings, and decrease the burden / responsibilities on the office team.
The process required to fix this oversight was absurd. One member of our organizing committee had a loud argument with a Board member after a late Fall board meeting about the inaction on this concern. Within less than a month, the monitors were in place. We called attention to the fact that it shouldn’t take a yelling match to see action after being ignored for eight months. Here is the response that we received, “[t]he improvement of Fall security monitors at HC and QR was considered, but there was extremely minimal parent, community, Parent Teacher Council, or building-based input requesting immediate action…” Apparently, our organization, with over 800 current subscribers, qualifies as “minimal” input. It appears that these groups would rather hear from hundreds of individual parents and that our organization is not considered legitimate. Why? We simply don’t have any reasonable answer nor has one been provided to us. As such, please express your opposition to our leaders’ dismissive attitude by emailing them directly (BoardofEd@scarsdaleschools.org, firstname.lastname@example.org) or emailing us (email@example.com. We simply cannot accomplish the goal of safer schools without your help.
Here is what we do know. Our Board of Education has not met a District request that they didn’t approve. They do not serve as a check and balance on the District. One Board member regularly falls asleep during public meetings. Requests of the Board are frequently deferred to the District that they are charged with overseeing. They are functioning as one body. While cooperation is very important, the Board should serve as a fully independent body, exercising independent thought, analysis and criticism. We have not heard any criticism expressed at a single Board meeting. There is a need for more independent thinking on the Board.
We eagerly await the announcement of this year’s SBNC’s selections for the slate of new Board members and look forward to hearing the candidates’ thoughts on these and other matters. Note three seats will turnover this year, and as such this is a very critical process to consider. We will report back once we have had an opportunity to review the Board candidates, or in the alternative, let you know that they chose not to meet with us.
There are several thousand parents in this District, many of whom are not subscribers to our group. Feel free to assure them that we are not advocating for armed guards, just common-sense security measures and additional expert resources. We will redouble our efforts in the face of unexplained resistance and ask merely that you voice your support and ask your friends, neighbors and family to subscribe.