By Tessa Raebeck
In response to state-mandated changes in school security regulations and increased safety awareness nationwide, the Sag Harbor School District is continuing implementation of new safety standards and measures at the Sag Harbor Elementary School and Pierson Middle/High School.
The SAVE (Schools Against Violence in Education) Act, initiated in 2000 by Governor George Pataki, requires school districts to develop comprehensive school safety plans covering evacuation, dismissal, community response and alerting family, law enforcement and other schools in the area in the event of an emergency.
Following the fatal school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut last December, in January Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the NY SAFE Act (Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act), furthering the guidelines of the existing SAVE Act.
In addition to increasing the penalty for possession of a firearm on school grounds or a school bus from a misdemeanor to a Class E Felony, the legislation formed the NYS School Safety Improvement Team, a group of state agency representatives from relevant fields, such as the state police, created to assist school districts in the development and implementation of school safety plans.
In accordance with these guidelines, Jonathan Hark, safety and administrative support manager at Eastern Suffolk BOCES, completed a facilities assessment report for Sag Harbor and presented it to the district in April 2013.
The report covers six areas: grounds and building exterior, building access, building interior, social and emotional tone, general security and development of a building level emergency response plan.
Hark gave the district 21 “bolded” recommendations, considered to be the most pressing. At the board of education (BOE) meeting Monday, interim superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso reported that 17 of the 21 recommendations have been addressed.
Three of the remaining four items have not yet been addressed due to budgetary concerns.
Additional cameras need to be installed in several places, primarily at Pierson Middle/High School, which school administrators anticipate will be budgeted for in the spring and completed this summer.
Another budgetary issue arose with the recommendation to improve communication with school buses through the purchase of walkie-talkies for drivers.
Hark’s report also advised for architectural work at the elementary school to make the top floor library lockable, which principal Matt Malone called “a major project.”
The fourth element not yet addressed is Incident Command System, or ICS-100, training. Jeff Nichols, principal of Pierson Middle/High School, said that training has been tentatively scheduled for January for all security personnel in the district.
Dr. Bonuso applauded the work of the administrators in being “very proactive” in bringing in Hark and quickly implementing his recommendations, noting that the remaining four are “pretty much on deck.”
“Once you’re getting close to an end of a list,” board member David Diskin reminded the room, “it’s time to start building a new one.”