Is Schreiber Safe?


The unspeakable tragedy that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School last month resulted in the deaths of 26 innocent children and teachers, and truly shook the nation. The events affected Americans deeply and emotionally, and left many asking if the mass shooting, and so many others in the past, could have been prevented.

Since the shooting, discussion has gone both to the issues of mental health care in America, and gun control regulations. Another topic that has been at the forefront of the minds of those currently enrolled or employed at a school or with children in school is school safety and security.

Schreiber, like other schools across the nation, has a series of measures in place to insure that our building is a secure one, and that tragedies such as those at Sandy Hook are prevented.  In the wake of such a shocking tragedy, however, community members, administrators, and staff members are reevaluating present security measures, and seeking to improve existing plans.

During the Jan. 8 Board of Education meeting, which the district broadcast live over the internet, security was one of the main topics of discussion. Parents and other Port Washington residents, many with children at Guggenheim, made speeches expressing their concerns over existing school security measures.  Many called for more locked doors, thorough checks on visiting adults, bullet proof windows and doors, armed guards, widespread panic buttons, and detailed security reports to be distributed to community members.

“We have many things going on, and many things under consideration,” said Superintendent Dr. Kathleen Mooney.

Following the public forum, Dr. Mooney, Director of Facilities Mr. Jim Ristano, and Assistant Principal Mr. David Miller, who co-chairs the Emergency Preparedness Committee, made a presentation detailing district emergency preparedness and security measures.

“The single most important expectation of parents is that their children come home at the end of the day,” said Mr. Miller during the meeting.

The school board responded with detailed information about current and future safety procedures, such as the Emergency Preparedness Committee and the district’s adherence to the BOCES security template. Schreiber in particular has a number of measures in place to keep students safe including the GEM car (security smart car) and a camera system.

Schreiber security measures are part of a “layered” approach to protecting students and staff.  There are many precautions in place, both long-standing and fairly new.

“Security measures range in scope,” said Mr. Miller.  “There are a lot of plans in place so that teachers are aware of how to respond.  And of course, planning and preparedness are the first step towards keeping kids safe.”

Some existing precautions include panic buttons in several confidential locations around the school building, locked doors, regular drills, and checks for identification. Visitors must leave a form of identification at the front desk in order to provide the administration with information regarding who is in the building at all times.

In order to protect the integrity of the system, many aspects of the district safety and security plans are not disclosed to the public.

The most visibly obvious aspect of Schreiber’s efforts to maintain a safe and secure learning environment is the team of security guards who work in and around the building whenever school or scheduled extracurricular events are in session. These guards are each retired members of the New York Police Department, and are responsible for most aspects of day-to-day safety operations on campus.

“We keep an eye on this whole campus,” said security guard Mr. John Holze, who works at Schreiber in the afternoons and evenings.

Schreiber has a semi-open campus: juniors and seniors may enter and exit during lunch and off periods with no supervision, but underclassmen must remain on campus.

Students may know the security guards best as those individuals who check ID cards to insure that those leaving campus are upperclassmen.

“The guards do a good job, because they know the faces of the students who they have checked going off campus,” said senior Daniel Baumgart.  “If they see anyone new, they usually ask for their ID card.”

Still, the security guards have not, in the past, been completely successful in monitoring the flow of students in and out of the campus.

“Even though the security guards occasionally ask students to show their IDs, I think its fairly easy for underclassmen to leave campus undetected because of the school’s various exits,” said senior Georgia Goodman.

Although administrators have plans in place to protect those on campus, they currently have no way to keep track of or communicate with off campus students in case of an emergency.

“Should something happen while I’m off campus, there is no way to be accounted for,” said junior Jackson Shain.

In addition to checking student IDs, the security team insures that all doors are locked during the school day, questions unauthorized persons on campus, and assists students and staff during emergency preparedness drills. Once the new security booth on Campus Drive is completed, the security team will man it for the duration of the school day.

Aside from the very visible security team, Schreiber has a complex safety plan in place.  Various committees advise the school on security matters, including the District Safety Committee, the Building Safety Committee, and the Emergency Preparedness Committee.

As part of Board of Education policy 8130, all schools in the district are required to actively maintain procedures for handling emergencies in a manual, including a go-home plan, shelter plan, evacuation plan, and procedures for responding to acts of violence. As per the policy, students and staff must also be instructed in how to respond to civil disturbances, environmental problems, fire, system failures, medical emergencies, and violence protection and intervention.

The intention of these security measures is clearly to protect students and staff in case of an emergency, such as a shooting like the one in Sandy Hook. However, when polled, students believed, nearly 3:1, that safety and security measures currently in place would not be adequate to protect the school community in case of an emergency.

“If someone did come in with a gun, I’m not sure that we would be prepared, so in that regard, I don’t feel very safe,” said junior Sabrina Brennan.

During the polling process, many students who responded that the security measures wouldn’t be adequate protection indicated that complete protection against emergencies is an impossible goal.

“I think that they’re doing what they should be doing, and all that they can be doing,” said senior Kayla Conway.  “I don’t think there’s anything that could be done to completely protect us from this type of emergency.”

“There are a lot of emergency exits and a lot of windows,” said sophomore Jenny Garofalo.  “But when these things happen, there’s not a lot you can do to prevent it.”

Still, many students feel completely comfortable with the level of security on campus.

“I feel as safe as a soup threatened only by forks, which is pretty safe,” said junior Simon Shapiro. “There are no real external threats that I’ve ever seen entering the school or even remotely nearby. We have an exceptionally secure community.”

Other students, admittedly, know very little about the school’s plans to keep students safe.

“I’m not consciously aware of how the school is keeping me safe, no,” said junior Priyanka Ninan.

Administrators admit that current security plans leave room for improvement.

Students have mixed opinions regarding their safety during the school day, as well as regarding potential dangers during an emergency.

“One thing that we can improve with our teachers is the staff development aspect of security,” said Mr. Miller.

Teachers are required to wear identification in order to ensure the absence of unauthorized staff, but many do not wear their personal ID cards for the entire duration of the school day. To improve staff awareness of security procedures, there is an online safety PowerPoint in the works for teachers to review.

There are also other pending developments in order to expand school security. For example, card access control will eventually replace keyholes in building doors in order to create a swipe system. Alarm contacts will also be installed in all doors in the future, and this will provide the administration with information as to which doors are open.

Questions still remain as to whether or not safety and security measures at Schreiber are sufficient to keep students and staff members safe, especially in the case of an emergency.