STATEN ISLAND, NY – After years of advocacy by parents and elected officials, the city will launch a small pilot program to lock down the front doors of public schools, and PS 8 in Great Kills will be one of four schools chosen for the first program, according to MP Michael Reilly.
Reilly said New York City Department of Education (DOE) Director of Safety Mark Rampersant unofficially announced the program at a school safety community forum held at PS 8 Thursday evening.
“We asked the DOE to lock the front doors and install a bell system and video capture so the school security officer could see who was entering the building before letting them in,” Reilly told Advance/SiLive. com. “It’s something that I haven’t stopped defending.”
The forum, hosted by the Assembly’s Minority Conference School Safety and Security Task Force, was one of several projects planned across the state to solicit input from stakeholders to assist in the development of policy solutions in response to the increase in acts of violence in schools.
The event was hosted by Reilly (R – South Shore) and MP Michael Tannousis (R – East Shore/Brooklyn), along with MP Doug Smith (R – Holbrook). Testimony was heard from officials from the NYPD, District Attorney Michael E. McMahon’s office, the Archdiocese of New York and District 31 Public Schools.
Tannousis told Advance/SiLive.com that one of the main concerns discussed at Thursday’s meeting is how an increase in crime in the community over the past few years has led to an increase in incidents in schools. from the city.
“Assemblyman Mike Reilly and I have been very strong on taking the necessary precautions to ensure the safety and well-being of our students, which is why we have advocated for the front doors to be locked,” Tannousis said.
THE LOCKED FRONT DOORS HAVE BEEN ELUSIVE
After 17 people were shot dead and 17 others injured in Parkland, Florida in 2018, the voices of parents calling for all New York public school doors to be locked have grown louder — though advocates have been calling on the city to lock the gates since at least 2012, following the school shooting in Sandy Hook, Connecticut.
“We see all these school shootings, and with what happened in Florida,” Jane Kelly said more than four years ago, referring to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre. She was then the mother of a second year pupil at PS 30, Westerleigh. “They are our children, the least we can do is put on a camera and a buzzer. They are our little ones. It’s unfortunate that we have to do this, but it has to be done.
Many calls have been renewed after the shooting in Uvalde, Texas earlier this year which left 19 children and two teachers dead. In May, Schools Chancellor David Banks said he consider several options to improve school safety, including locking all public school doors.
Under current DOE policy, all doors to school buildings are locked and alarmed except for the front door. The front door is guarded by one or more school security guards.
When entering a New York City public school, visitors must stop at the front desk, present identification, and share the reason for the visit. Some schools require visitors to carry a visitor’s pass until they exit the building.
In order to lock the front doors, schools should be equipped with new technologies to unlock the doors remotely, such as the bell entry system. Bell entry systems, which are already installed at some Staten Island private and parochial schools, allow visitors to be identified before they are allowed into the building.
When Advance/SILive.com last analyzed the price of buzzer entry systems, a New York City security company said the estimated cost to install would be between $1,500 and $1,800. dollars per door or entrance. Another Staten Island-based security company said the cost of parts would start at $200, and the installation price would depend on the type of door, door frame material, and whether an electric strike could be installed.
The DOE did not respond to a request for comment at press time, but Reilly and Tannousis were adamant that the pilot program will bring a sense of security to parents, students, teachers and school administrators.
“I want to say that I’m very pleased that the DOE listened and responded to Mike Reilly and my concerns,” Tannousis said. “I am also very happy that the first school in this pilot program is located in my district.”
SAFETY CONCERNS IN SCHOOLS INCLUDE EARLY VOTING
Reilly said at Thursday night’s event, student mental health was one of many additional issues discussed. Establishing best practices and maintaining partnerships with community organizations have been identified as key to stopping potential school violence before it happens.
The use of schools as voting sites was also discussed; at the center is the concern that the presence of students during the vote could negatively impact a school’s operations, as well as the safety of students and staff.
“When the voting site is open for early voting, you’re looking at 30 to 40 days of that school being a voting site,” Reilly said. “So now you have people who are not part of this school community coming in to go vote. The NYPD provides a police officer, but the reality is that the officer is in charge of making sure everything goes well with the polls, but they’re not there specifically for school safety.
Tannousis added that there were also concerns about the inability to hire sufficient numbers of school security officers. Adding that school safety officers can apply for other jobs with higher salaries.
“For a school safety officer to really earn a living wage, they really should be working abnormal hours,” Tannousis said. “So as a result of that, we lost a lot of school safety officers to other jobs, such as the Department of Corrections.”