By Tessa Raebeck
When Bridgehampton students return to school this fall, they may not recognize the entrance. In efforts to increase safety, the administration is planning to install an intricate security system at the front of the building.
At the Bridgehampton School Board of Education (BOE) meeting June 26, school officials discussed the plan, which they hope to complete during the summer vacation. Administrators debated the best method to enhance security while maintaining a welcoming environment.
“I don’t want to turn it into a dark place,” said Nicki Hemby, BOE president.
Under the pending plans, as visitors approach the school they will enter through two unlocked doors into a vestibule. The foyer space enables people to come inside in case of increment weather, but they will not be able to access the building until their purpose is identified. A security camera will monitor the vestibule and a second set of doors will remain locked at all times; guests can only enter the building if the receptionist buzzes them in.
“The reason we’re putting that there is to have a barrier,” said Ronnie White, BOE vice president. “There’s no point in having that door if that door is not planning for the worst.”
Several board members referenced the mass shooting that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut last December as a reason behind the upgrade in security.
Under the Safe Schools against Violence in Education (SAVE) Act that was signed into law in July of 2000, schools are required to develop a plan for preventing and reacting to such incidents.
“By law, every school district must adopt a comprehensive district-wide school safety plan and building-level school safety plan (for every school within the district) regarding crisis intervention, emergency response and management,” Antonia Valentine, a representative of the New York State Department of Education Student Support Services office, said in an email.
These measures mandate that schools take certain actions, but decisions like installing a vestibule are made by the districts themselves.
“Often, best practices are decided at the local level,” said Sherry Runk, a trainer at the New York State Center for School Safety.
Bridgehampton School Principal John Pryor explained the intent of installing the new entranceway to the board.
“We’ve made certain promises…about lockdowns and doors and single-entry communication protocols,” said Pryor. “We are incapable of doing a real lockdown until the doors are fixed and the communication systems are fixed.”
The price of the installation, which will include a doorway, security camera and buzzer access system, will not be determined until the board decides on the type of door that will be used.
Sag Harbor School District has taken similar measures to enhance safety.
“Security equipment has been added (cameras, buzzer systems), facilities have been enhanced (security doors, locks), and positioning of our security personnel, and expanding their hours of service addressed,” said Sag Harbor Superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso. “All of these measures have been concomitant with a heightened awareness of the need to be ever vigilant and conscientious in safeguarding our school family and those in our care.”
In addition to inspiring protective measures like buzzer systems, this “heightened awareness” can bring school communities together. Bridgehampton Superintendent Dr. Favre addressed the importance of the “school family” in a letter to parents following the Sandy Hook shooting.
“The Sandy Hook Community has taught us, through their example, the importance of coming together through hardship and loss,” the superintendent wrote. “Their community epitomizes the goodness that is needed throughout the world, not just in times of hardship — but all the time.”
In other school news, Bridgehampton School has received a grant for a virtual AP program. The grant awards the district with tablets and laptops and allows students to take AP courses online.
“The kids that are taking the AP courses get the tablets to use and the rest of the laptops will probably be put into our computer lab,” said Dr. Favre.
The Bridgehampton School will also be offering a free tennis clinic to students in the Sag Harbor and Bridgehampton school districts. A tennis pro will give lessons Monday through Thursday from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Boys and girls entering grades 5 through 8 are encouraged to attend.