For several weeks the Scarsdale School District and the Scarsdale Coalition for Safer Schools have communicated — through email and public comment at board of education meetings — about ways to make Scarsdale schools safer.
The coalition, comprised of about 650 concerned Scarsdale parents, has focused recently on potential security problems at the Quaker Ridge and Heathcote elementary schools.
At the school board meeting Jan. 14, Assistant Superintendent of Facilities Stuart Mattey announced one security change that is in line with numerous requests from the SCS.
Mattey told the board and community Jan. 14 the district will post two security personnel, hired through security firm Altaris, at the entrances to the two elementary schools. Beginning Jan. 21, one person will be placed at each school to greet visitors as they walk in.
At Edgewood, Fox Meadow and Greenacres elementary schools the main office is located right by the entrance, allowing staff to immediately greet visitors, ask them to sign in and to obtain a visitor’s pass.
At Heathcote and Quaker Ridge, however, the main entrances are further away from the entrance.
The district plans to build security vestibules at all five elementary schools by the start of the 2019-20 school year.
In the meantime, the coalition has been asking that, at the very least, the district develop an interim plan for Quaker Ridge and Heathcote. Mattey said the district is working to get the two new security greeters set up with buzzers and an intercom. In addition, district security chief Mike Spedaliere is working with both school offices on logistics, such as making sure the new security personnel are aware of potential meeting times and facilitating communication between the new personnel and the school offices.
School board member Nina Cannon praised the board for making the security upgrades a top priority at the schools, adding she has always had a problem with the entrances at those two elementary schools.
School board member Bill Natbony also commended the decision, noting the criticism the district has been facing.
“As a board member we all care deeply about security, we all understand the issue and often we face somewhat emotional criticism about not being responsive,” Natbony said.
Natbony also provided the community with an anecdote about how school security is working effectively. Natbony said he and his two young adult children went to the high school before the holidays to see the new fitness center and visit their former teachers.
They entered through a side door after a student let them in, allowing them to bypass the security personnel at the front entrance.
Natbony admitted that was the “bad part” of his story and added he told the students they shouldn’t let people in through side doors in the future.
During his visit, Natbony said, he was approached by school security personnel who asked him who he was and if he had a visitor’s badge.
Natbony attempted to explain his visit however, he said, the security officer was not receptive to his explanations and asked the visitors to go to the front entrance to follow the proper procedures.
“I couldn’t see that happening a year ago in any of our schools,” said Natbony. “That’s the way it should be, meaning that person is doing [his] job and someone is giving that person the appropriate direction.”
According to Mattey and Spedaliere the district continues to work on, and make sure its staff are prepared to deal with, the procedural components of safety and security.
The district continues to update and familiarize its staff with to-go kits, which are used to respond to an emergency, and reunification kits, which are used to reconnect students with their parents following an emergency.
Spedaliere said the district is also bringing athletic coaches, after-school supervisors and transportation staff up to speed on the district’s emergency response protocols.
Board member Allison Singer, describing the to-go kits like small suitcases, questioned if a container of that size is optimal in a situation where a teacher needs to grab the to-go kit and immediately transition into his or her emergency response duties.
Spedaliere said the district previously received questions about the size of the to-go kits. However, he said, when the district explained to teachers and staff what the kit contains, the size made sense.
The contents of a to-go kit are one or two binders with student information that could be used for reunification, a bullhorn, batteries for the bullhorn and a flashlight. The kit also has tarps that can be laid out on the field and/or used for a makeshift shelter and ponchos for the students. Spedaliere said there was a previous lockout in which students were outside in the rain for 20 minutes.
Spedaliere also gave updates on police and fire department participation in safety drills. He said the fire department has sent at least one personnel member to every lockdown drill. The Scarsdale police, he said, have attended all except one drill they missed due to manpower at the time.
Spedaliere said firefighters attended a recent drill at Fox Meadow Elementary School, after which the firefighters provided security suggestions that the district is working to implement.
Community members will be able to ask questions and share views at the Safety and Security Forum scheduled Wednesday, Jan. 23, at 7 p.m. in the Scarsdale High School auditorium.