Reams of emails back and forth between the Scarsdale Coalition for Safer Schools and Scarsdale School District Superintendent Thomas Hagerman culminated in an in-person discourse at the board of education meeting Dec. 17.
In the days leading up to the meeting, SCSS member Roger Neustadt wrote to Hagerman from the coalition’s email account relaying security concerns Scarsdale residents were noticing at their children’s schools.
Those concerns included open and unmanned doors, a lack of exterior security cameras and a lack of police presence. Neustadt and other members of the group felt district officials were not being sufficiently responsive to their emails.
“As we have maintained since our inception, we will always endeavor to convey fully accurate, truthful information with full transparency,” wrote the SCSS to Hagerman Dec. 11. “We hope the District will take that to heart and start to do the same.”
Hagerman has pushed back on the claim of minimal transparency multiple times, telling both The Inquirer and the SCSS that the board and administration work hard to respond to every email from residents.
Unsatisfied with school officials’ responses, Neustadt approached the board Dec. 17 with an 868-word statement again calling for faster security solutions.
“Unfortunately, I feel an obligation to continue to press [the board and administration] to act in the best interest of my and others’ children,” Neustadt said. “There remains no visible urgency to remedy the security shortcomings in our schools and the Board is seemingly fine with the slow pace of action.”
Neustadt noted two incidents that occurred recently — one in which someone keyed several cars at Scarsdale High School and another in which someone smashed a car window at Quaker Ridge Elementary School.
Neustadt, whose children attend Quaker Ridge, said exterior security cameras might have been a deterrent in both incidents.
He then went on to, once again, express frustration with Altaris, the security firm with which the district has a contract. Neustadt questioned whether the security firm believes cameras are reactive as opposed to proactive.
Neustadt noted board member William Natbony has asked the district multiple times to address “low-hanging” fruit, and Natbony has said he’s not sure the district is addressing those low-hanging fruit.
“I’m not sure which is worse, that the district is moving slowly on easy improvements or that a member of the board of education has no idea whether these items are being addressed,” Neustadt said.
The Quaker Ridge resident reiterated points of concern, including the lack of professional security expertise on the board of education and a lack of stop-gap solutions while the district prepares to install security vestibules at the elementary schools.
Members of the coalition have previously noted the school board has no one with a background in safety and security and still does not, in the coalition’s opinion, accept suggestions or help from the community.
“You have not called upon any members of the community who are experts in the field,” said Neustadt. “They are here, ready, willing and able but you have no interest in including them in the process. The district is more worried that a parent will reveal confidential security information than they are in co-opting that parent to assist.”
Voicing concerns about entrance policies at Quaker Ridge, Neustadt has previously decried the buzzer system at the school. He said the secretary at the school is usually busy and therefore cannot pay close attention to the door. In addition, he said, it is possible for someone to press the buzzer and move their face away from the door.
He asked the board, “Does it really take committees and security experts to spend $200 on a video doorbell [such as] many of us have in our homes? Where is the focus? Where is the priority?”
Several members of the administration and the board responded to Neustadt’s comments, including Superintendent Hagerman, who said the district plans to install exterior security cameras at the schools and has communicated that information in emails to the concerned residents.
Addressing the perception that there is “no visible evidence” the district is moving forward on issues of safety and security, Hagerman said the district has completed 50 items related to safety and security and is working on 70 more — all of which are listed on the district website.
Natbony responded to the comment that he “had no idea” whether these security items were being addressed. “Just because a board member asks a question about the progress or status of a particular issue,” he said, “doesn’t mean that board member or the board doesn’t have knowledge about what’s going on with respect to security and the number of issues that have moved forward in a positive way.”
Board member Allison Singer, who joined the school board in July, said she has been “impressed” with how the board has handled its safety and security plans. In addition, she said she believes the community members are misunderstanding the difference between responding to a concern and agreeing with a concern. She said just because the board and administration did not agree with a community member’s suggestion does not mean they did not provide a response to that suggestion.
After the meeting, members of the SCSS told the Inquirer they still don’t believe the board values their input, despite Hagerman’s statements to the contrary.
The two sides appear to be at a philosophical impasse.
Hagerman and Assistant Superintendent for Business and Facilities Stuart Mattey and the board of education have no desire to deviate from their safety and security plan — a plan which includes committees and steps that appear too long and drawn out for the SCSS.
The board meeting produced one win for collaboration between the SCSS and administration. Mattey said he had spoken with a member of the New York State Department of Homeland Security, a decision based on an SCSS suggestion.
According to Mattey, the DHS agent was surprised with the progress the district had made in the area of safety and security, telling Mattey Scarsdale was ahead of similar school districts.
Mattey plans to eventually have the agent tour district buildings and offer security suggestions.