Westchester County schools aim to strengthen security in the year following the Dec. 14, 2012, shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Photos courtesy wikipedia

Sandy Hook still echoes for county schools


Westchester County schools aim to strengthen security in the year following the Dec. 14, 2012, shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Photos courtesy wikipedia

Firefighters reflect at a memorial for the Dec. 14, 2012, Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
Photo courtesy fccfoundation.org

At the one-year anniversary of the deadly school-shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., school districts throughout Westchester spent much of 2013 reevaluating evacuation and lock-down procedures, added security personnel and installed new safety-enhancing technologies on campuses.

But the question remains: In a post-Newtown world, are children any safer in the classroom?

On the morning of Dec. 14, 2012, 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot six staff members and 20 students, ages six and seven, at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The Newtown shooting was the second-deadliest mass shooting by a single gunman in American history. Victims’ families held private memorial services to mark the one-year anniversary of the Newtown shooting and requested people consider honoring the victims through acts of kindness. Town officials asked the media to respect the families’ privacy and discouraged news outlets from coming to Newtown.

Lee Slocum of Rye Neck said she feels her children, who attend Resurrection School in Rye and Daniel Warren Elementary School in Mamaroneck, are safe. Slocum said Resurrection installed blinds and interior locks to all classroom doors immediately following the Sandy Hook shootings. She said all doors are locked during the day at Daniel Warren and parents must be buzzed into the building. Both schools have practiced a lockdown drill since the Connecticut shootings last year.

“They have definitely stepped up their game from what I’ve seen,” Slocum said.

Westchester County schools aim to strengthen security in the year following the Dec. 14, 2012, shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Photos courtesy wikipedia

Westchester County schools aim to strengthen security in the year following the Dec. 14, 2012, shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Photos courtesy wikipedia

On the one-year anniversary of the shooting, the City School District of New Rochelle released a statement offering condolences to the victims’ families and highlighting the advances its made to ensure student and faculty safety throughout the year. Specifically, the school district reduced the number of entrances at every city school to one except at New Rochelle High School, which has two points of entry, after student arrival; adjusted the arrival and dismissal procedures at all city schools; and installed cameras and a buzzer entry system at the six elementary schools following a districtwide security audit.

The New Rochelle school board appointed a safety committee, which includes representatives from both local police and fire departments, to improve the district’s emergency response and safety plans.

The school district also hired Ellen Garcia, a safety administrator, to make sure each school is in compliance with the New York State Safe Schools Against Violence in Education legislation, which requires every school to have safety and emergency evacuation plans.

On Nov. 20 and Dec. 2, New Rochelle High School received threatening phone calls, leading to the evacuation of students and staff. Neither incident produced threatening material after police swept the building.

Garcia said the evacuation procedures were examined by the building’s safety team and that overall, everything went well.

“The administrators followed established protocols and the evacuations went very smoothly,” she said.

Garcia noted the school district is looking into adding additional safety features in the future, including door alarms, keyless entry systems for the two middle schools, and additional outdoor lights and cameras for all city schools.

Harrison resident James Coffey, 49, has a child in kindergarten at the Harrison Avenue Elementary School and said he felt the school has adequate safety procedures.

“They have an alert system now and, if anything happens, they send out an alert in an email, text message or phone call,” Coffey said.

He also said the school recently added a police officer to the campus.

“The kids are safe here,” Coffey said.

Cottle Elementary School in Tuckahoe and Tuckahoe’s middle school and high school received safety enhancements that were funded through a capital improvement grant from the state and a $38,000 donation from the Generoso Pope Foundation, a Tuckahoe-based philanthropic foundation that provides funding for local schools, hospitals and civic organizations.

The improvements, which we-re im-plemented prior to the start of the school year, included two-way walkie-talkie radios‑which facilitate communication between the schools and provide a direct line to the Eastchester and Tuckahoe police departments‑as well as identification scanning software that was installed at the entrances of the schools. The software scans incoming visitors’ driver’s licenses against the national sex offender registry and alerts police personnel and school administrators if a visitor is flagged as a potential danger. The schools also added safety glass, upgraded locks and alarms on all exterior doors. The total cost to the district was more than $63,000.

Superintendent of Tuckahoe schools, Dr. Barbara Nuzzi, said the school district will also hire a contractor in 2014 to further assess the schools’ safety needs.

“Our number one priority is the safety of our children,” Nuzzi said.

Along the same lines, the Rye City School District began exploring improved safety measures following the Newtown tragedy. Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Frank Alvarez, said the district audited the school buildings’ locks, security personnel and public address systems. He said the district also hired a security management firm, StoneGate Associates, to rewrite its emergency management plan, train teachers and principals to handle emergency situations and educate parents on where to get information in the event of an emergency.

The Rye City Board of Ed-ucation also amended a contract with NJB Security Services Inc. to add one security guard to each elementary school. Alva-rez said security guards were already placed at the middle school and high school prior to the additions to the three elementary schools.

StoneGate’s security audit, wh-ich cost approximately $20,000, led district officials to consider adding electronic card readers to all school entrances as well as updating the public address system at Osborn School, an elementary school located off of the city’s main thoroughfare, Boston Post Road, in the future.

According to a survey by the New York State School Boards Association that polled 180 superintendents of school districts across the state, 59 percent of the respondents said their overall school safety has increased since 2012.

The report, School Security in a Post-Sandy Hook World, also said 77.7 percent of school districts improved their emergency response plans, 56.5 percent added buzz-in features to the schools’ entrances and 5.3 percent installed bulletproof glass doors.

Roughly 24 percent of respondents said securing entryways was the most effective security measure taken, while more than 40 percent of school superintendents said they could not afford to hire additional school resource officers, like police officers.

New Rochelle Board of Ed-ucation president David Lacher said area schools are much safer than they were before the Sandy Hook incident. “Without hesitation, they are safer,” he said. “Any district who didn’t focus on [safety] would be [remiss].”

Representatives from the New- York State School Boards Ass-ociation could not be reached for comment as of
press time.

Contact: katie@hometwn.com