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Parents and Administrators Talk School Safety

school safety 2Emotions ran high at the School Safety Panel held at Scarsdale Middle School on Wednesday, May 2nd. The meeting was moderated by Scarsdale Middle School Principal Meghan Troy and led by Stuart Mattey, the District Safety Committee and Assistant Superintendent for Business and Facilities, Eric Rauschenbach, the Director of Special Education and Student Services, Assemblywoman Amy Paulin along with Police Chief Andrew Matturro, Lieutenant Joseph Dusavage, and Sergeant Steven Delbene of the Scarsdale Police Department.

The meeting started calmly with panelists providing information on school safety. Mattey kicked off the affair by reading the email Dr. Hagerman sent to the community back in February highlighting the steps the district has taken to improve safety and security across the schools. In 2016, the district contracted with Altaris, a K-12 safety, security, and emergency management firm. Altaris is collaborating with the district in three key areas: preparedness and prevention, emergency response, and post-incident recovery. Altaris attends District Safety Team meetings to brief members on current safety and security trends as well as provide updates on building level team meetings. Improvement opportunities identified during assessments and building level team meetings are discussed for consideration for uniform district-wide implementation.

Hagerman also cited specific progress made since 2016 in the Scarsdale Schools, including single, limited points of entry at each of the schools; portable radios for every administrator and other select staff; extensive public address system upgrades; electronic card access control systems for doors; landscaping hazard mitigation (to improve sight lines, and to deter concealment); exterior lighting enhancements; and evacuation drill improvements, to name a few. Mattey also added that a district liaison will be added to work with district/building teams to ensure consistency in safety policies between buildings.

Scarsdale Police Chief Andrew Matturro spoke next about the ongoing efforts of the Scarsdale Police Department to improve school safety. Specifically, every patrol vehicle is now equipped for immediate response to an active shooter incident so the police no longer need to wait and assemble before entering the school. Additionally, five years ago, the police department began making random school visits to district schools to both familiarize the officers with the floorpan of the schools and to allow students to see officers in a non-threatening way. Matturro also highlighted that the goal of the police is to address the threat before an incident occurs, and information regarding these threats may not be given publicly due to safety and not secrecy. He ended by encouraging people to contact the police department whenever they have relevant information.

Rauschenbach took the floor next to speak on district wellness initiatives designed to improve student quality of life and decrease the threat of violence. Many teachers have participated in STI courses to better understand mindfulness and the anxiety students may face. Measures have been taken including assuring students have adequate recess time and free periods. Additionally, special programs have been put in place to target students with specific wellness issues.

Assemblywoman Amy Paulin finished the panel discussion with a brief synopsis of gun control legislation that has been passed or introduced in Albany, the most comprehensive of which is the SAFE Act, passed after the Sandy Hook shooting, which requires a universal background check on gun purchases, enacts a ban on assault weapons, and requires the recertification of pistols every five years.

After Paulin spoke, the panel began answering pre-submitted questions before answering questions from the vocal audience. Among the pre-submitted questions included the notion of adding metal detectors, which was not discussed when planning new safety changes. Other topics addressed in the pre-submitted questions included the new safety measures created from the latest bond, which included the addition of security vestibules at all five elementary schools accompanied with camera surveillance systems. Additionally, a floater security guard has been added to the high school to take the place of the current security guards during their breaks.

School SafetyThe next round of questions came from the parents present in the room, and the main topics of discussion revolved around the idea of adding police officers to the schools and the addition of metal detectors. Metal detectors tend to only be present in schools that face serious violence issues, and tend not to be an active deterrent when it comes to school shooters. According to a study done by the Journal of School Health, there is insufficient data to determine whether the presence of metal detectors in schools reduces the risk of violent behavior among students, and may even detrimentally impact student’s perception of safety.

Many parents also voiced support in adding police officers to all district buildings to improve safety. However, many mass shootings, including Columbine and Virginia Tech, occurred despite the presence of armed police officers on their campuses. Furthermore, because officers no longer wait and assemble before entering an active shooter situation at a school, response time has been significantly decreased. While addressing the issue of police presence, Chief Matturro also noted that Scarsdale is part of a mutual aid agreement throughout Westchester so an officer from a neighboring area can respond to specific incidents nearby.

Roger Neustadt, who was unable to attend sent the following comment to Scarsdale10583, “It was apparent from the video that the parents in attendance...are in favor of having police officers stationed at each of our schools. The reception from school representatives on the panel was tepid at best. Our children are not afraid of the police. Their familiarity with police officers can only be a positive in the face of horrific circumstances. There was frequent mention of the fact that Scarsdale is not an urban environment and we don't have the same issues with respect to gang violence, etc. Does it really need to be said that the Columbine, Sandy Hook and Parkland tragedies occurred in communities far more similar to Scarsdale than to NYC?”

He continued, “as mentioned at the forum it is certainly possible that a resource officer may be at the other end of the school from the location at which an incident occurs. Is this a serious objection to the placement of officers in our schools? I prefer to look at the glass as half-full and think that there is a chance the officer will be in the right place at the right time. He/she will certainly respond far faster from several hallways away than driving from the Village. The time for this discussion is now and the essential parties to this conversation are the parents. It is we who have far more to lose in the face of delayed or insufficient action and our tax money that will have to pay for the increased expenditures. Are we willing to put a price on the safety of our children?”

One could hear the tangible fear in many parents voices when discussing school safety; however, difficult as it may be, the school administration is working to strike a balance between maintaining student safety as well as safeguarding student freedom and access to the schools by the community. It should also be noted that the most concerned parents were in attendance of meeting, and the views expressed by these parents may not represent the collective view.

To watch the entire presentation click here.

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