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Jack Blaum

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Some of the staff members who took the EMT course were recognized by the board at the Aug. 22 BOE meeting. Photo from the Three Village Central School District

By Andrea Paldy

Three Village school district officials devoted a large segment of their second meeting of the new school year to addressing security infrastructure, training and protocols.

Jack Blaum. File photo by Andrea Paldy

Jack Blaum, district security coordinator and chief emergency officer, used the Sept. 5 meeting to review procedures and highlight enhancements for the year ahead. The school district now has 11 new emergency management technicians on staff, he said. These are district employees — among them Jeff Carlson, assistant superintendent for business services — who trained with the Suffolk County Office of Emergency Management in the spring.

Three Village is the first K-12 school district in the state to run and graduate students from an EMT course, Blaum said. Having EMTs on staff means school nurses have a support system and additional resources, he said.

During a phone interview, Carlson said it is as important to have personnel trained in “everyday” needs such as CPR and bleed control as it is to be trained in protocol for an active shooter.

“The more people that know CPR, the better for all of us,” he said, adding that having first responders on site could improve recovery time and even chances of survival.

The 200-hour course included hefty reading assignments, homework and weekly tests, in addition to practical instruction in CPR, splinting, patient assessment and transport with other skills required of an EMT, Carlson said. Participants completed hospital and ambulance rotations. To receive certification, they took two New York State exams — one written and one practical — to demonstrate their skills.

The school district plans to offer more EMT courses, Blaum said, adding that he hopes with funding from the county and state, the district could eventually be its own first-responder agency.

Also new to the district’s arsenal of security procedures is an enhanced ID scanner in building entrance vestibules. The district has locked all
entrances to schools during school hours since the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting. The default lockout system currently in place ensures that visitors enter the building only after scanning an ID and being buzzed through two doors.

New scanner software cross-references the Megan’s Law sex offender database and allows the district administration to add pertinent information to flag individuals who should not enter buildings.

“The more people that know CPR, the better for all of us.”

— Jeff Carlson

These safeguards are in addition to other “target hardening strategies” already in place, such as bullet-resistant film, lockdown drills and interior doors that are lockable with a single key so that a staff member can secure any classroom door from the inside in case of an emergency. Additionally, each building has a hidden “panic system” and an automated lockdown alert system.

Blaum said security guards at each school are either active or retired law enforcement officers. Along with vehicle patrols and interior and exterior camera surveillance, the district works closely with the Setauket and Stony Brook fire departments and has direct lines to the Suffolk County Police Department’s 6th Precinct. There is also district staff trained in bleeding control, lockdown and active shooter options, improvised explosive recognition and planning for bombing incidents, Blaum said.

“Mental well-being is the key to all of this,” he said, explaining that the district’s measures to increase guidance- and mental-health staff can help ensure the well-being of staff and students and assist in keeping the community safe. Even so, Blaum said he and his team remain vigilant and work with administrators, psychologists, social workers and the school resource officer to assess threats.

Though these protocols and infrastructure are in place, Blaum said national events compel him to always look for ways to improve security in the school district. Future enhancements could include upgrades to automated classroom door locks that activate all locks at once, ID scanning to let staff open interior doors with ID badges, and perimeter gates at the high school.

The district will host a safety and security community forum at R.C. Murphy Junior High School, Sept. 13, at 7 p.m.

Jack Blaum. File photo by Andrea Paldy.

By Andrea Paldy

The Three Village school board meeting opened to a packed cafeteria at R.C. Murphy Junior High March 14 following a moment of silence in memory of the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. Foremost on the minds of its attendees was still school security. Following the tragedy in Parkland, Florida, exactly four weeks before, parents wanted to know how the district would continue to ensure their children’s safety.

Prepared to voice their concerns, some parents came armed with statistics and studies, while others wielded their experience in law enforcement. But, before public participation, which took place at the end of the meeting, those gathered heard a detailed and, in his words, frank presentation from security coordinator and chief emergency officer Jack Blaum.

Parent Bethany Riddle speaks at the March 14 Three Village school district BOE meeting. Photo by Andrea Paldy

“It is impossible to create a bulletproof plan,” he said. By regularly analyzing national and world incidents, Blaum said he can identify and bolster what the district is doing to safeguard schools.

For example, one of the best plans the district has in place is its “default lock-out” of the buildings, Blaum said. External doors to schools are locked during the school day and for some time after it, he said. To be admitted to district buildings, visitors must undergo two-pronged vetting, which entails showing ID before being buzzed through the first door into a vestibule, and then having that ID, typically a driver’s license, scanned before anyone is allowed through the second door.

In addition to bullet-resistant film over glass around the schools, every school in the district has at least two security guards — there are three at the junior highs and 13 at the high school — and all are active or retired law enforcement officers, Blaum said. After hours, there continues to be security presence and surveillance cameras running in and outside of the buildings.

Blaum explained that staff is trained in lockdown procedures and options in an active shooter situation. Each school has lockdown drills with staff and students four times a year. There are hidden panic buttons around district buildings to call a lockdown. Blue strobe lights and sirens are activated and are purposely loud and distracting to make it difficult for anyone, especially an attacker, to concentrate, the security coordinator said.

Administrators have extensive emergency management training, including on how to control severe bleeding. Security personnel is also receiving emergency management technician training in addition to learning how to recognize explosives and manage a bomb incident.

“We need to not be afraid of calling out the behavior of other children.”

— Janine Salgado

There is also a system that provides direct communication with emergency services at Suffolk County Police Department’s 6th Precinct and Stony Brook and Setauket fire departments, as well as shared communication channels. Blaum also explained how any student and staff following “see something, say something” protocol is also beneficial.

“I need intel instantly,” he said. “All the red flags were missed,” he said referring to the Parkland school shooting incident.

It wasn’t until the end of the presentation that Blaum hit on the issue of arming teachers.

“That is not going to happen,” he said to applause..

Regarding an armed security guard presence, he said the district is exploring its options.

“It has a tremendous amount of moving parts to it,” Blaum said.

Parent Robert Kronenberg, an attorney and former New York Police Department officer, agreed that an armed presence would require a lot of tactical planning, and expressed confidence in Blaum’s approach and ability.

He added, however, that if there’s a shooter in the school, he believed there’s only one thing that’s going to stop that.

“It’s not some security guard, it’s not just some guy with a gun that you hire,” Kronenberg said. “It’s a former or current law enforcement officer who has the tactical training and the guts to confront a shooter while that shooter wants to kill every child he sees walking down the hallway.”

Two other parents expressed similar sentiments. However, the majority of the close to 20 speakers on Wednesday felt differently.

“There is no evidence that an armed presence increases security.”

— Bethany Riddle

“There is no evidence that an armed presence increases security,” said psychologist and parent Bethany Riddle. “On the contrary, while it might provide a perception of safety, research indicates that the presence of armed guards increases the risk of violence and injury.”

Most speakers echoed Riddle’s thoughts, suggesting that more resources be put toward psychological and social welfare, anti-bullying measures and teaching kindness.

“We need to not be afraid of calling out the behavior of other children,” said Janine Salgado, a mother of three. “And being comfortable and calling those parents and telling them what you see.”

Budget

Assistant superintendent for business services Jeffrey Carlson gave a preliminary report on the budget for the 2018-19 school year. The cap on the tax levy increase will be 1.97 percent, an estimated $3 million, Carlson said.

Though he does not anticipate a big increase in state aid, he said there will be no cuts for budgetary reasons. There will, Carlson said, be an increase in the district’s contributions to the employee and teacher retirement funds. To cover the $1.5 million increase, the district will use funds from the reserves, which are set aside precisely to cover such expenses, he said.

“While we never look at using reserves lightly, it’s what it’s there for — to help mitigate the increase in the retirement system cost,” Carlson said.

Additionally, the district will continue to plan for capital projects, which are reimbursed by the state at a rate of 66 percent. As has been the case with many of the projects over the past few years, many projects on deck will be related to safety and security, Carlson said.

Three Village budget vote is May 21. File photo by Greg Catalano

By Andrea Paldy

As another school year drew to a close, the final Three Village school board meeting of 2016-17 brought news of security enhancements and the district’s third phase of spending for its Smart Schools Bond allocation.

The Smart Schools Bond, an initiative approved by New York voters in 2014, allocated $2 billion to public schools across the state for education technology, preschool classrooms and security.

Three Village received $3.39 million from the fund, which is being spent on hardware, equipment and infrastructure. Speaking at the district’s final meeting for the school year, safety and security coordinator Jack Blaum said that the final phase of spending — about $1 million — will include an upgrade to security cameras, digital video recorder storage and card key access devices.

The district will convert cameras it already has on its properties from analogue to digital, Blaum said. Besides those cameras, located both in the interior and on the exterior of district buildings, officials plan additional digital security cameras at each school and will install wireless cameras at the two junior high schools to monitor the athletic fields. There is already a surveillance system for the fields at the high school.

To accommodate all of the new cameras, new DVR units will be purchased for the district’s schools. Blaum said the upgrades will also boost the number of key card readers at doors for faculty and staff at all schools, the North Country Administration Building and the old administration building on Nicolls Road. He said that there will also be additional ID scanners in building vestibules to produce visitor badges.

He discussed turning the old administration building into a command center where cameras and security vehicles could be monitored.

For Phase 1 of the Smart Schools Bond, money, about $1.2 million, has been budgeted for upgrading network infrastructure. Phase 2, recently outlined in April, will see the district spending about $1 million on classroom technology and on the district’s one-to-one device program that will provide notebook computers to junior high students.

The plan was posted to the district’s website for a 30-day period to allow residents to comment. The 30-day comment period has now passed, and the district is currently in the process of submitting the plan to the New York State Education Department for approval.

While the district still awaits approval of the first two phases of spending, he anticipates that many of the security requests will be “fast-tracked.”

Coordinating security within the district is like running a small city, Blaum said.

“All the infrastructure is great but, again, the support of all the staff and all the students are crucial,” he said.

Jack Blaum speaks at a Three Village board of education meeting. File photo

In the years since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting — a horror further punctuated by recent college shootings — safety continues to be a top priority for Three Village school officials.

Security & Safety coordinator Jack Blaum detailed the district’s efforts at a recent school board meeting. The past year has seen the installation of vestibules in school lobbies, card key entryways, emergency training for staff and safety drills with students during school hours.

Blaum said an analysis of the recent shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon reveals that such tragedies have three things in common: motive, means and opportunity.

“The one thing we have total control over is opportunity,” Blaum said, last Wednesday. “The opportunity is keeping our buildings closed when we’re in session.”

That is ensured by posting additional full-day security officers at each elementary school, as well as an additional full-day and half-day officer at the junior highs, he said. Security guards are also posted at each entrance to the high school.

The security staff — which is made up of either active or retired law enforcement personnel — checks visitors who must enter an enclosed vestibule before entering a building. Greeters are responsible for late arrivals, early dismissals and helping visitors once they’ve been allowed to enter.

Blaum said that he and his team would begin to train district staff to use the CrisisManager app, which holds the district’s protocol for dealing with different crises. The app offers the advantage of being easier to reference during a real crisis than a paper flow chart, Blaum explained. Parents and students can also download the free app.

In other details, Blaum said the district is constructing a “command center,” with 11 video monitors at the back of the North Country Administration Building. He said the center would make it easier for the superintendent to monitor incidents remotely and help with any investigations.

Across the district, emergency phones — “bat phones,” according to Blaum — connect directly to the Suffolk County police communications supervisor in Yaphank.

“Lockdown buttons,” located throughout each building, will trigger an automated lockdown message, disable key card access to all but emergency personnel and set off sirens and a blue strobe light to alert those outside the building that the school is on lockdown.

Besides the additional cameras installed throughout the district, including the Ward Melville High School football field, there is also a law enforcement presence on weekends and holidays, Blaum said.

Though the district’s advantage is in controlling opportunity, Blaum emphasized the importance of recognizing and reporting changes in student or staff behavior. He reminded the community to use the Safe School Helpline to report safety concerns.

“If you take out one part of motive, means and opportunity, the shooting can’t happen,” he said.

As mandated by the State Education Department, building emergency plans and layouts have been filed with New York State police and distributed to Suffolk County police and the Setauket and Stony Brook Fire Departments.

Buses for all

In another move aimed at student safety, the district will provide busing for everyone. Currently, Three Village provides busing for all elementary school students, but not for junior high students who live less than a mile from school or high schoolers less than a mile and a half away.

“It is the single biggest complaint,” assistant superintendent for business services Jeff Carlson said.

He pointed specifically to the danger posed to students crossing Nicolls Road to get to R.C. Murphy Junior High School. He also mentioned those who have to walk along Christian Avenue, Quaker Path or Mudd Road — which have no sidewalks— to P.J. Gelinas Junior High School. There is also an issue of safety for high school students walking along Sheep Pasture Road, he said.

The three additional buses would cost $220,000, but transportation aid from the state would be around $100,000, he said. With more state aid to further lower the cost, the increase to the tax levy would be around $10,000, Carlson said.

Residents must vote on an amendment to the busing guidelines in a proposition that is separate from the budget.

The school board unanimously voted to add the proposition to the May ballots.

“That’s our duty, our obligation to keep all our students safe,” said board trustee Jeff Kerman, who seemed to sum up the sentiments of his colleagues.

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