Ratcheting up school security

Aiming to shield against violence

Posted

The second of two stories examining school safety.

Lawrence School District Superintendent Dr. Ann Peder-sen has made it clear that school security has become a priority. At the Parent-Teacher Association forum on March 28, she noted that the vestibules of the Lawrence Primary School, at the Number Two School, and the Early Childhood Center, at the Number Four School, are natural “mantraps.”

Mantraps are small spaces with two sets of interlocking doors. The first set of doors must close before the second set opens. Yes, this is what it has come to in our schools. Two months after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in which 15 students and two adults were killed, securing school buildings and campuses has become a central focus of budget plans, safety strategies and the thoughts of those entrusted to run these schools.

“Safety and security are always in the forefront of the decisions we make,” Pedersen said during a previous budget discussion. At last month’s forum, Pedersen, along with Sgt. Charles Sollin and Officer John Zanni of the Nassau County Police Department’s 4th Precinct, addressed the idea that people feel less safe but are possibly more secure at school.

“I was kind of uneasy after the Florida shooting,” Lawrence High School senior Dayris Beltran said. “As of right now, I don’t know anyone who’s scared to come to school.”

This is the second straight year in which the district has conducted four lockdown drills with the 4th Precinct, and the drills have been “extremely helpful” Pedersen said, in ensuring that procedures and policies are the “same throughout the school buildings.” During a lockdown, which is ordered in response to a direct threat to a school or the surrounding community, all school activities are moved inside, all doors are locked and no one is allowed in or out of the building.

Lawrence conducted the drills this year without notice to learn how the procedures would work. “We saw firsthand how people reacted,” Zanni said. “There were people in the hallways, the doors locked, it went very good, and we completed the drill.”

Beginning with Lawrence High, security arrangements will change this school year. Police cars will be parked at times in school lots, visitors will be required to call a day in advance and show proper identification, and the high school security booth will be moved to better secure the campus. The policies will be implemented at every district building. Cameras will be installed at all schools, starting with the high school, and there will be a one-button lockdown for emergencies and lockdown strobe lights.

“What’s a threat?” Sollin asked the forum audience. “Anything that threatens safety. Real or perceived, where people show concern.” The officer, who is attached to the Problem Oriented Police Unit, noted that even if someone threatens an action and treats it as a joke, he or she will most likely be charged with making a terrorist threat.

Securing Hewlett-Woodmere schools

The Hewlett-Woodmere district updates its Emergency Response Guide annually and posts it on its website. It provides definitions of such terms as lockout, lockdown and hold-in-place, which are sent to parents at the beginning of the school year.

District officials said that all school buildings have safety plans, trained security officers, mobile units, a visitor management system that includes the creation of temporary photo identification using visitors’ driver’s licenses, staff identification cards and a partnership with the county police.

Never thinking she would have to be worried about her daughter’s safety at school, Sandy Carl now believes that an increased law enforcement presence is warranted. “I believe that every school should have armed and trained security as well as a local police officer always on site during school hours,” Carl said, “even if it means rotating shifts or having a parked vehicle on site with an officer in it.” Her daughter, Ashley, is a senior at Hewlett High School.

‘Talk to everyone’

Sollin said that many mass shootings last from 10 to 15 minutes. If obstacles could be put in the shooter’s way — no one to shoot at, doors locked — it will slow the gunman down so police can respond to the scene. Sollin told the Lawrence forum attendees that when they call the police, they should provide as much information as possible.

Nikolas Cruz, the Parkland shooter, was considered a problem student. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who killed 12 students and one teacher and injured 21 others in the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, documented being bullied in the writings they left behind.

To combat that, Sollin told the students at the forum, “Talk to everyone. You don’t have to like them, but talk to someone, include everyone. Find out who they are, be more active, spend more time and keep an eye on everyone.”

SAVE Act

The Safe Schools Against Violence in Education Act — Project SAVE — was passed by the State Legislature in 2000. It requires those seeking education certification in New York state to complete two hours of violence prevention training. It highlights what each school district, and specific schools, must do to improve security: create districtwide and building-level emergency response plans as well as codes of conduct; conduct school violence prevention training, and instruction in civility, citizenship and character education; and initiate whistle blower protection protocols.

Pedersen and Dr. Mark Secaur, Hewlett-Woodmere’s deputy superintendent, said they believed the nearly 18-year-old law remains relevant. “The positives are in the area of making sure schools have safety plans and run the drills,” said Pedersen, adding that Lawrence “has a very strong Social Emotional Learning program” that addresses students’ character education. “However, as we saw in the Parkland shooting, a perpetrator who knows the drills can create additional problems.”

Secaur said that the Save Act’s implications had a profound effect on district policies, planning and instruction. “The district is in full agreement with the law’s goal of promoting a ‘safer and more effective learning environment,’” he said, noting that many parts of the law have evolved to meet updated needs. “District staff have been diligent in their work to stay abreast of the changes and their collective impact on our work with students.”

Have an opinion about school security? Send your letter to the editor to jbessen@liherald.com.