"Certainly security is on all our minds," said Board Of Education President Glenn Swanson last week. "It is something we are looking at."
A major step was taken in 2001 when school entryways were restricted to force everyone to enter through a single entrance. The high school office was moved to the front entryway, forcing visitors to go through the office to sign in. Security cameras were installed among much controversy on the school board and within the community about privacy rights. But parents are concerned about the effectiveness of that system.
"I have a student in the elementary school, and I can tell you that I am up at night because I know that any day I can walk into the elementary school without seeing another human adult," Susan Tabrizi told the board. "Even thought there may be someone who is looking at me over a video monitor I've come into the school and had no one be in the office. The way the elementary school is is set up you can be in a cafeteria full of children without having to pass anyone. That's what keeps me up at night."
Superintendent Chris Pettograsso says that the shared decision making teams and the safety team are considering a more stringent system. She says that a new system is being considered for inclusion in the 2014-15 school budget. Rather than relying on a single point of entry, doorways into the schools would be monitored by video and visitors would have to be buzzed in. Pettograsso says that some schools in the region already have systems like this.
"We are talking to our community about those types of things," she said. "We're also talking to law enforcement about that. Deputy Pete Walker is our consultant. We're working with him and the community."
Pettograsso added that non-school programs that use the facilities such as the swimming pool pose more of a challenge than the times during the school day. She said that the cleaners have protocols for securing the buildings each evening.
"Our biggest concern is after-school hours, when our buildings are open," she said. "We're working with the Town Recreation Department because when our activities are in session we have chaperones at the high school and the middle school. When Rec is there there aren't chaperones. it's a different situation. So we're talking to the Rec Department about having a monitor."
Specific security measures are mandated by the New York State Departments of Education (NYSED) and Labor (DOL). DOL mandates such things as having a hazardous communications program in place, as well as protective equipment, and plans for chemical hygiene (especially in the Science Department) and exposure control. NYSED requires public access to defibrillation equipment and emergency management, pest and critical response programs. The mandates require annual reviews of these programs and safety drills.
The district implemented employee swipe card access in 2012, as well as access control, cameras at school entrances, in hallways and in school busses, and a call alarm system.
Swanson said that committees are continuing to consider implementing new systems. A buzzer/intercom system is on the agenda, as well as additional video cameras at strategic locations. The safety committee is also considering better solutions for students who have to go between the high and middle schools and the tech building behind the middle school. This year the traffic patterns for busses and parents picking up their children at the middle school were adjusted. Middle School Principal Jamie Thomas says the new system is proving to be safer.
At the end of 2012 the district solicited input from parents, faculty, staff and the community at large. A number of concerns were logged with emphasis on adults being able to access school areas, often without signing in or apparently being monitored. Pettograsso says that any new plans will rely on community input, and that committees are working on solutions right now. A schedule of the meetings is listed on the school Web site, as well as resources for parents and a copy of the district's safety plan. Swanson said that the Facilities Committee meets regularly to plan future measures and invited Tabrizi to join, which she said she would like to do.