At a March 19 school budget workshop, Island Park parents and residents blasted a plan to construct a perimeter fence at Lincoln Orens Middle School in the coming months. The complaints came as school and police officials defended the plan as necessary for security.
The debate focused on the 5-foot-high, black chain-link fence that would encompass the school fields. The project was approved in 2013, as part of a $119,000 bond. While Board of Education trustees, administrators and two officers from the Nassau County Police Department’s 4th Precinct reviewed the reasons for the fence, many parents and residents complained that it would ruin the aesthetics of the neighborhood.
Schools Superintendent Dr. Rosmarie Bovino said that the fence is intended to improve the safety and security of the children and all other people on school grounds. She said that there are currently numerous protections in place, such as a visitor identification system, signage indicating school property, surveillance cameras, police alert systems, floodlights, an electronic lock-and-key system and existing fencing.
In the past, Bovino said, the campus has seen teenage trespassers, animals and even vehicles driven onto the field. Voters decided to set aside bond funds in the 2013-14 school budget after the creation of a federal Homeland Security K-12 security checklist in April 2013, which recommended that perimeter barriers and gates be installed for security. Bovino added that the fencing would also help in the event of a school shooting, but noted that it was coincidental that the construction would come in the aftermath of the most recent shooting in Parkland, Fla.
“Our biggest concern is security,” NCPD Sgt. Charles Sollin said at the meeting. Police can get to the school in three to five minutes after receiving a call in the event of a shooting, he explained, but added, “By the time we show up, the threat has already been eliminated.” In such a situation, the fencing would slow a shooter down by roughly 30 seconds, Sollin said — a crucial amount of time.
Several parents, however, insisted that the fence would not stop a shooting, despite the officers’ explanation. One parent suggested metal detectors, and another, a man who said he has lived in the area many years, hollered, “You’re putting us in a cage!”
The board stressed that the fence would be a compromise between security and aesthetics, and insisted that it would not be ugly or create a prison-like vibe.
“If we’re gonna put up a fence, let’s be progressive and also put something inside for the kids to utilize,” parent Chris Fabris, who attended the meeting, said in a phone interview afterward. He added that he was opposed to the fencing because the schoolyard has little in the way of activity for the students, and there needs to be more. “I’d rather deal with cars and animals than our children stuck indoors on social media,” he added.
He also took issue with how little parental and residential input was incorporated into the decision-making process. “A decision was already made, so why bother?” Fabris said, claiming that the meeting was a waste of time.
Bovino countered that it was not the board that voted on the fence, but rather the community, in the spring 2013 bond referendum.
“It’s either a schoolyard or a park — it can’t be both,” said resident Richard Shurin. Some residents use the school grounds like a park, he said, walking their dogs there or hanging out.
Shurin supports the fencing, he said, highlighting the fact that students would be able to use the entire field, and are currently not allowed to venture too far from the building. “If it’s a schoolyard, it needs a fence to protect the children.”
Bovino told the Herald that despite the contention at the meeting, she believed that the attendees understood the importance of the fencing better after the trustees, and especially the police officers, explained their reasoning. But she said she was disappointed that the residents cared so deeply about the aesthetics of the fence when she considered it a matter of security. Still, Bovino said, it is expected to go up later this spring.