By Ellen Frankman
In the wake of another year rocked by senseless violence in schools, the Sag Harbor School Board of Education met Monday evening to discuss new security measures for the district.
Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim school superintendent, opened the discussion saying there were three important components to any forthcoming security plan: materials, mindset and manpower. Elementary school principal Matt Malone and middle/high school principal Jeff Nichols then presented the findings of a security assessment of Pierson Middle-High School that was carried out this spring and completed in May.
The facilities assessment was performed by Jonathan Hark, a safety and administrative support manager for Eastern Suffolk BOCES who has over 26 years of health and safety experience. Hart inspected the grounds and building exterior, building access, building interior, the social and emotional tone of the schools, general security and the development of a building level emergency response plan.
“It is unpleasant to talk about, but it is the reality,” said Nichols.
Addressing the grounds and exterior of the building, Hark recommended larger projects such as a further evaluation of the elementary school windows to determine whether or not they pose a safety risk, to very small adjustments, including the relocation of a window safety sticker which was completed on July 1. Hark also recommended the trimming of vegetation at the front of the school. The district plans to do so by August 31.
The issue of building access raised significant discussion among board members. Hark highly recommended that all doors that are not manned be locked and kept closed, and the district has planed to incorporate this measure by August 31.
“One of the ongoing challenges we have here is to ensure that all doors are locked during the day,” said Nichols, who explained that the security measure is particularly problematic after hours, when students are entering and exiting the building at leisure during the time of sports practices and games.
Board member Mary Ann Miller also raised the issue of visitors entering the building during school hours, but then not being accounted for when they leave as they frequently take alternate side exits out to the parking lot.
While Hark’s assessment did not cover security after hours, Nichols advocated for a comprehensive security review going forward that would address after hours and weekends.
“I would like to see us address retraining the staff and all of us on the one-door-in one-door-out procedure,” said Miller. “I think we have been nicely informal, but I think we are asking too much of one security guard.”
Hark also recommended the installation of a buzzer system, and the implementation of this proposal is already underway with an estimated completion date of September 9.
As principal of the elementary school, Malone further stressed the need for the addition of a security guard at that school, a suggestion which was also endorsed by Hark.
“Currently that job is being done by a greeter or a monitor, who may not have the same training as a security guard,” said Malone.
School business administrator John O’Keefe informed the board that an additional $100,000 is available in the budget, $70,000 of which will be used to address security concerns.
“That money is currently sitting and is not identified,” said O’Keefe. “In adding a security guard at the elementary school, we are looking at $40,000 a year, so the $70,000 could conceivably cover one part timer and one full timer.”
Additional recommendations on building access covered by Hark included curtains or shades for elementary gym windows, which was completed on August 1, replacement of all exterior doors leading to the elementary gym, which is set to be completed by August 31, and the addition of signs directing visitors and noting the secure door policy. Such signs have already been ordered and should be in place by the start of the school year.
Hark’s interior assessment of the facilities recommended that the elementary school computer doors remain locked, which has been completed, and that a camera and viewing system be installed to allow the main office staff to monitor the main entrance in both the elementary and middle/high schools. The district may also consider having an architect review the possibility of installing interior walls to the elementary school library, per Hark’s recommendation.
The evaluation of the social and emotional tone was of particular interest to the board members and to superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso.
“We need to do more to safeguard our school than just to add another metal detector,” said Dr. Bonuso, who discussed a plan for a staff development day in which employees are advised on how to respond to children who are hurting. Dr. Bonuso stated that substitute teachers would also be invited to this workshop.
Board member Daniel Hartnett supported the idea of engaging substitute teachers with the security culture of the school.
“On a given day you probably have four or five substitutes in the building also,” said Hartnett. “Do they get a bullet sense of what the plan is in case there is a lockdown?”
Dr. Bonuso agreed that greater efforts should be made toward educated substitute teachers on such measures, and discussed the incorporation of a substitute teacher orientation day in which substitutes would be advised on emergency preparedness and the general security measures of the district.
Malone, Nichols and the board agreed that a successful school culture can be promoted though the Dignity for All Students Act.
“I think the whole basis of the social and emotional tone assessment is that the best defense is building strong relationships,” said Nichols. “The most valuable deterrent is trusting relationships with everyone in the school and when you implement procedures that are too strict that threatens the trust.”
Board member Mary Ann Miller recommended sending out a security update to families before the start of the new school year in a way that would inform people of changes in a welcoming way. The board agreed that it was a good idea.
“This is a work in progress,” said Miller.