Sag Harbor School District parents and community members walking into the Pierson High School auditorium last Thursday night were greeted by a slide which read, “Schools can no longer assume safety. They must plan for safety.” This statement by Pam Riley, Director of the Center for the Prevention of School Violence, epitomized the School Community Safety meeting.
In this sentiment, the Sag Harbor School District scheduled a safety forum to assure parents and community members of the steps the district has taken over the course of several years to enhance security at its schools. According to Superintendent Katy Graves, the school district began partnerships in 2015 with IntraLogic Solutions and the Sag Harbor Village Police. “We have been proactive in enhancing security to ensure the safety of our children,” she said. “We have done many things, some of which we can’t discuss here, to protect the students.”
Lee Mandel, CEO of IntraLogic Solutions explained, “IntraLogic is a security technology company. Our clients are mainly school districts. We have partnered with over 150 school districts nationwide providing our expertise in security services.” Mandel spoke about hardening the school’s infrastructure, monitoring its perimeter and providing technology that at a push of a button would put the school into a lockdown or lockout status while turning access to the school’s cameras over to police.
With over 100 cameras installed throughout the school buildings and their perimeters, Village Police would be able to assess the situation and respond much more quickly in the event of an emergency. “When seconds can mean lives,” stated Mandel, “the use of sophisticated technology can make the difference.”
Mandel stressed the importance of drills. He said that children know the routine for fire drills very well. “The last fire in a school where children were killed was in 1956,” he stated. “That’s because everyone knows how to react with a fire. But an active shooter is another story.” According to Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols, the school district has been conducting an average of five drills a year which include lockdown, lockout, and early dismissal drills. “After each drill is completed we review it as a team,” added Elementary Principal Matthew Malone. “Then we review the safety protocols with the administrative staff and students.”
Assemblyman Fred Thiele and Legislator Bridget Fleming, both Pierson High School graduates, spoke at the forum. Fleming and Thiele emphasized the importance of the school administration engaging the community and parents in this type of discussion. Thiele stated that it is important to “maintain a constant vigilance.” As a representative for 20 different school districts, the assemblyman said he is pushing to ensure that, “expenses spent on these security resources should be exempt from the tax cap.”
Fleming assured parents and community members in attendance that there is a great deal has been done to enhance the security of the school. “We can’t really talk about it because we don’t want the bad guys to know,” she said. Both Fleming, Police Chief Austin McGuire, and Superintendent Graves emphasized the “See something, say something” philosophy.
Ensuring the safety of students “is a balancing act. How do we have a safe open learning environment and still keep the children safe? We think about this every day. We certainly don’t want the children to be scared every day. But, we need to strengthen our security,” Graves said. She said the forum was scheduled to determine the community’s feelings on the matter.
“Understand that this is the first generation of kids who have had to deal with this,” added Chief McGuire. “We need to do the right things to keep them safe.” The Village Police have participated in the drills that take place at the school and provide a presence at school events including outdoor events.
A member of the audience who described himself as a “Sag Harbor Lifer” raised concern over the student walkout planned for Wednesday, March 14. “They can’t be prisoners. They need to be able to go outside … but they are sitting ducks out there.” Chief McGuire indicated that police presence will be provided during the walkout.
The superintendent described the protocols used when the students were outside the building. She stated “staff carries radios. It’s not the best system and we are looking to improve it.” To date, Ms. Graves indicated that they have installed over 100 cameras in the school, have instituted a picture identification electronic swipe card system for staff, as well as a visitor management system, installed “state of the art lockdown technology,” installed special tempered glass in access areas as well as emergency strobe lights and improved door locks.
When the forum was opened to the audience for feedback, many raised similar concerns. One parent stated that she brings lunch to her child and arrives at the school to find “no one’s around.”
Parents asked why there was no visible police presence at the school. Some requested that security guards be hired.
Others raised concerns over events held by the school. “Spirit Night there was no security. People were coming from all over. The doors were open and anyone could come in,” stated a freshman parent. Several others asked why there were no metal detectors. “I had to go through a metal detector to pay a parking ticket. Aren’t our children more important than a parking ticket?” asked another parent. Although the superintendent could not promise that all these requests would be implemented, she indicated that it was extremely important to the district to see how the parents and community felt about security in the school.
“It’s a dose of reality,” she said “that we think about every day.”