School security took precedence at Tuesday’s Port Washington School Board meeting at Schreiber High School, as the district presented established protocols and new information to the community.
That presentation, however, came with a disclaimer.
As School Superintendent Kathleen Mooney pointed out, “security experts say there are certain specifics that we cannot discuss publicly.”
The district has focused on security since before Sandy Hook, School Board President Karen Sloan said. Yet the tragedy brings “new things to light,” she noted.
Mooney said that this was the first meeting since the Newtown shooting, adding, “I do want to express publicly just how very saddened and how upset all of us have been with regard to this, and to send our condolences to the Newtown community.”
Also related, Mooney said, is the matter of mental health, especially in “identifying and working with children who may be exhibiting certain types of issues.” Mooney added that “it’s another area where we are looking to take care of the needs of the children.”
Parents and the district alike place a priority on security, administrators said.
“The single most expectation of parents is that their children come home at the end of the day,” said Schreiber Assistant Principal David Miller, who co-chairs the district’s Emergency Preparedness Committee and delivered the presentation. “We all share that expectation with you.”
Miller, who attends briefings by Nassau County Police Department and the Bureau of Special Operation, said “the single most important thing a school can do is to plan and to train in the event of an emergency.”
He noted that the Emergency Preparedness Committee includes a member who now works for the FBI and once served as a New York Police Department captain; the former head of security and safety at New York University; Port Washington-Manhasset Office of Emergency Management, North Hempstead OEM, local police and firefighter officials, doctors, surgeons and more. These members provide “incredible expertise” and also live in the community, Miller said.
“A local police department means everything in these kinds of situations,” Miller said. “They respond in minutes.” In one drill, police responded in under 2 minutes, he said.
In addition to NCPD, the district also falls under the jurisdiction of Port Washington Police and Sands Point Police, Mooney said. Police have been “very proactive,” in patrolling the schools, Mooney said, adding that the more familiar these departments are “with our schools and how they are laid out, the quicker they can respond.”
The district already has six security guards – all former law enforcement. Though they are at Schreiber, they work throughout the district as needed. One consideration is to hire more security.
Officials have learned lessons from tragedies in Newtown and Columbine as well as Virginia Tech, where doors were chained shut, Miller said. To boost rescue efforts, local police are now “armed with semiautomatic rifles and barricade busters to break in doors,” he said.
In addition, “every school has panic buttons, not just at front desk,” Miller said, though for security reasons, he added, he couldn’t specify where.
The district already offers Reportit.com, which allows people to anonymously report threats to school officials, who can then avert plots.
BOCES Health and Safety Training and Information recently provided a needs assesment, Miller said. And while some strategies are under consideration, others are being implemented.
A new security and information booth is now up at Schreiber. And soon, a new card access system, which was grant-funded, will keep doors locked at Schreiber and Weber.
New considerations include harnessing texting abilities to connect with teachers and high school students in an emergency, adding walkie-talkies to communicate between schools, expanding the camera system at Schreiber and other schools, and adding an outdoor PA system for the high school and middle school.
The committee is examining various options to finance the projects including grants and existing funds.
A full broadcast of the meeting is available in an online beta version.