Tags Posts tagged with "Security"


State Sen. John Flanagan. File photo

The New York State Legislature is working to make schools safer in the aftermath of the Feb. 14 shooting at a Florida high school. But the Republican-held Senate and Democrat-majority Assembly are not yet on the same page in figuring out how to accomplish the goal.

The Senate passed a package of bills March 6 aimed at improving school safety through various security-related measures. After a package of gun legislation bills — which included measures to create a stronger background check process, ban bump stocks or accessories that increase a semi-automatic weapon’s rate of fire, establish extreme risk protection orders, and more — brought forward by Senate Democrats failed in late February, the Assembly also passed a package of bills March 6 designed to strengthen gun laws. Several of the bills in the Assembly package were the same as versions voted down in the Senate. It remains to be seen if either house will pass their counterparts respective packages.

Bellone announces school safety initiative

Schools in Suffolk County will now be offered a permanent eye in the sky.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) announced the SHARE initiative March 9, a program that will allow districts the ability to connect existing camera systems directly to the Suffolk County Police Department. The system would enhance the efficiency of a police department response to an active shooter situation, according to a press release from Bellone’s office.

“We will do whatever it takes to protect our schools by utilizing every available tool and partnership at our disposal,” the county executive said in a statement. “The SHARE initiative will provide law enforcement the enhanced capabilities needed to respond to a security risk, and I look forward to working with our superintendents and stakeholders on how we can keep our schools safe.”

The county will hold a meeting of all school district superintendents March 15 to formally seek voluntary consent with the districts interested in the program.

“We have been preparing and training for the nightmare scenario that we hope never happens,” District Attorney Tim Sini (D) said in a statement. “In the police department, we enhanced our readiness for an active shooter scenario or a terrorist attack, but most importantly to take measures to prevent those incidents.”

“I have every hope that we can walk and chew gum at the same time because these are not mutually exclusive directions, and they are very complementary,” Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said in an interview. The Assemblyman said he hadn’t had a chance to fully study the package of bills passed in the Senate yet, but at first glance it included some initiatives he’d be comfortable supporting. “I would just appeal to my colleagues in the Senate to meet us halfway, and I would pledge to do the same for them. I think we all should keep our eye on what the objective is here, which is to save lives and ultimately there is no single measure that is going to be an omnibus solve.”

The passed Senate package includes a bill authorizing districts to receive state funding to hire a school resource officer, defined in the bill to include retired or active duty police officers, deputy sheriffs or state troopers. They would be permitted to carry firearms on school grounds if licensed to do so. Another bill increased the earnings limitations for retired police officers being employed by schools from $30,000 annually to $50,000. A bill was also included in the package that will provide state education aid to districts for acquiring safety technology and improving security.

“Schools must be safe havens, where students can learn and teachers can teach,” Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) said in a statement. “In New York, we must act swiftly and decisively to implement additional measures in schools throughout our state to give students, parents, and teachers the resources and peace of mind that they deserve.”

The Senate’s package also had components designed to improve school-based mental health services. One bill allocates districts $50,000 in state funding to put towards hiring a mental health services coordinator, while another requires the state Department of Education to investigate and report on the number of full and part-time school counselors, school social workers and school psychologists in each school; the ratio of students to the number of school counselors; the ratio of students to the number of school social workers; the ratio of students to the number of school psychologists in each school; and when such staff is working in more than one school.

As part of the package, another bill was passed defining school shootings as an act of terrorism, which now makes the New York State Intelligence Center in cooperation with the state Division of Homeland Security responsible for the collection, integration, receipt, processing, evaluation, analysis, fusing, dissemination, sharing, and maintenance of intelligence information to aid in detecting, preventing, investigating and responding to acts of terrorism, including school shootings. Now suspects who discharge a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school can be charged with committing an act of terrorism.

The bills in the Senate’s package passed with overwhelming, bipartisan support in most cases. They will now head to the Assembly before arriving, if passed, at Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) desk for signing into law.

The package that passed the Assembly, if eventually passed by the Senate and signed by Cuomo, would temporarily prohibit individuals from purchasing or possessing guns if a family member or law enforcement officer petitions a court and the court finds individuals are likely to engage in conduct that would harm themselves or others.

It also would establish a 10-day waiting period before a gun may be delivered to a purchaser who has not cleared a background check. Under current federal law, gun dealers must conduct a background check through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System before selling a firearm. The NICS system responds with one of three messages — “proceed,” “denied” or “delayed.” The dealer must deny the sale if the NICS background check determines the buyer is a prohibited purchaser and responds with a “denied” message. However, if the response is “delayed,” the dealer may nonetheless complete the sale after three business days.

Also included in the package is a bill preventing convicted domestic abusers from purchasing or possessing a firearm.

Spokespersons for Flanagan and state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) did not immediately respond to a request for comment asking if they intend to support the package of legislation passed by the Assembly.

Mount Sinai School District's board of education voted unanimously to hire armed guards during its March 8 meeting. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

Students in Mount Sinai will come back to school after this weekend greeted by new armed security guards.

The Mount Sinai board of education voted unanimously March 8 to hire four armed guards to patrol the school campus. Three of the armed guards will be stationed in and around the three main buildings on the campus, where the elementary, middle and high schools sit, while the fourth will be used to patrol the grounds and surrounding fences. The board said the guards will not be involved in normal disciplinary activities.

“My concern is based on response time. The 6th Precinct gave it a shot, and their best estimate was an eight-minute response time.”

— Gordon Brosdal

“My concern is based on response time,” Mount Sinai Superintendent Gordon Brosdal said. “The 6th Precinct gave it a shot, and their best estimate was an eight-minute response time.”

Brosdal also said he was also fearful that Mount Sinai is the type of nice area that would attract a shooting.
“We fit the profile of a school that gets hit,” he said.

As the national discussion over guns in schools lingers with no true federal legislation in sight, local school districts are spending budgetary funds to hire armed guards to protect children. Mount Sinai joins Miller Place School District and other districts across Long Island in hiring armed security personnel in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, shooting Feb. 14.

While Mount Sinai school board President Lynn Capobianco said that the district is currently looking for a risk assessment to be conducted, many residents at the meeting expressed disappointment that the district did not conduct one before hiring the armed guards.

“I believe we do need to take a look at what we are doing with school security — assessing our own risk after sort of seems like auditing our own taxes and then telling the IRS we don’t mean to pay,” resident Joe Latini said. “To me, it’ really is important that we have a third party risk assessment team come in here and tell us what we should do to secure the schools.”

School board Vice President Michael Riggio said the board wanted to get the armed guards in as soon as possible.

“I believe there is a threat, and armed security guards checks that box of deterrent.”

— Michael Riggio

“I believe there is a threat, and armed security guards checks that box of deterrent,” Riggio said.

The board is buying the services of Retail Security Services Inc. based out of Medford. The guards will be paid $40 per hour. The board said a future meeting will show where the guards will be placed in the budget.

Some parents in the meeting expressed that they wanted the guards to have military or prison guard backgrounds, but Brosdal said that when working as superintendent in William Floyd School District, that employs a number of security personnel, the most problems he had between security and the students were with those who used to work in Rikers penitentiary.

“Picture a guy whose done 20 years or more in Rikers with high school kids,” he said, pausing. “Not a good mix.”

Mount Sinai residents were split on whether they thought armed guards would truly protect the school’s children.

“I don’t think there would be enough people in the community to voice against it, because God forbid there is ever a school shooting, and the campus has no security in place.”

— Therese Blanton

“Regardless of what your stance is, I don’t think there would be enough people in the community to voice against it, because God forbid there is ever a school shooting, and the campus has no security in place,” Mount Sinai resident Chris Hart said. “These are open grounds — this is a large facility.”

Therese Blanton said she did not think the four armed guards would be enough to protect the campus.

“I still don’t understand how letting one armed guard in each building will protect this entire campus, including our perimeter,” Blanton said. “There’s no hard structure around and you have soft targets when they are out playing on the playground. I think a lot of people who are in my position are intimidated by guns in schools.”

Henry Dreyer said he too would prefer a full risk assessment done first, and that more parents would come to each and every meeting to help the district improve on a regular basis.

“I don’t like it, it’s unfortunate that they took this route,” he said of the board. “I would like if there were more mental health care in here. I have kids in the school — second grade and kindergarten — I attend the board of education meetings regularly, and there’s usually seven or eight of us here. Last week there were about 100 people here, and this time there’s more than 50. If they’d come down here every week, it would be better.”

Parents also speak of concerns of notification of recent school threat

Shoreham-Wading River High School. Photo by Kevin Redding

At Shoreham-Wading River’s board of education meeting March 6, 11th grader Sarah Acerra took to the podium and spoke up in light of the recent Florida tragedy.

Shoreham-Wading River junior Sarah Acerra took to the podium during a recent board of education meeting to voice her concerns over school safety. Photo by Kevin Redding

“What is being done to make us students feel more safe?” Acerra asked board members.

The junior said she recalled a threat made by a student last year — Thursday, March 16, 2017 — via text message that “something might occur” at the high school. The student who sent the text was quickly identified and dealt with by the district and plans were put in place for locker and school bag searches the following school day. But Acerra, who said many of her peers stayed home upon hearing about the threat, did not feel safe when she arrived back at the high school the next day.

“I walked into school a little before 7 that morning — I remember it perfectly because nobody checked my bag and none of my friends’ bags were checked either,” she said. “So the rest of the day was very uneasy for all of us because we didn’t know what was going to happen. Even though the kid had been caught, there was no guarantee that there wasn’t anybody else involved with the threat.”

Another high school junior, Kathleen Loscalzo, spoke of her anxiety when it comes to who is able to enter the buildings. Loscalzo said she saw a former student, who moved to another state in seventh grade, in one of her classes this year. When asked if she recently moved back to Shoreham, the former student said, “No, I was visiting and they just let me in.”

“If someone my age who doesn’t go to school here just put on a backpack and walked in with everybody else, there would be no way [of knowing].”

— Kathleen Loscalzo

Loscalzo raised concerns over the student’s identification cards, which she said are not especially needed for anything except buying lunch in the cafeteria.

“I know many other schools have IDs they have to wear like a lanyard,” Loscalzo said. “If someone my age who doesn’t go to school here just put on a backpack and walked in with everybody else, there would be no way [of knowing].”

On the subject of social media threats, Jennifer Donnelly, a mother of a ninth-grader in the district, addressed a vague email sent out to parents by Poole on March 4 regarding a threat, which, according to the letter, was “investigated with the support of law enforcement who deemed the threat to not be criminal” and appropriate disciplinary actions were made.

“A lot of people, myself included, were really uncomfortable sending my kids to school after that,” Donnelly said asking for more clarification in these emergency emails. “There was nothing about who this threat was from, what the threat was, what the level of the threat was, what was done … And, with security being put in place, I feel like, ‘Well, what’s going to happen immediately tomorrow if someone comes through the door?’”

Superintendent Gerard Poole thanked both students and Donnelly for weighing in and assured them that the district has been reviewing and working toward strengthening its security and safety measures since before the Parkland, Florida shooting.

Shoreham-Wading River high school junior Kathleen Loscalzo said a former student was able to enter the building and visit a class of hers without being asked who she was upon entering the highs school. Photo by Kevin Redding

Frequent evacuation, lockdown and lockout drills currently take place throughout the year, and a combined $2 million investment over the past few has included security hardware additions and infrastructure improvements, like burglar alarm systems, enhanced video monitoring, elementary vestibules and School Active Violence Emergency (SAVE) hotlines installed in each building. Poole outlined to parents and students in attendance future projects to beef up security. These include:

  • Adding security guards in the high school; the district’s security supervisor said of arming them, “I think there’s a long laundry list of items that should be discussed in detail surrounding that — a legal piece, a training piece, a tactical piece. I know there’s an urgency to do something, but there’s a lot that needs to be done first.”
  • The construction of a high school vestibule to begin this spring with projected completion in summer 2020; the middle school vestibule will be completed this summer.
  • The installation of a Raptor Visitor Management System in all buildings this spring, a web-based monitoring software designed to track visitors and electronically check them against public databases.
  • The implementation of ballistic security film designed to prevent glass from shattering on impact and delay an intruder’s entry.
  • The consideration of metal detectors in the schools.

The district also recently completed a security audit and developed a “multi-pronged plan” for strong enhancement and has in place a recently-hired security consultant firm — Covert Operations — to enhance its plans, drills and overall preparedness in an emergency situation. The firm regularly reviews and improves security and safety measures.

“We are certainly in a strong position to ensure the safety of our students, staff and visitors,” Poole said.

Northport-East Northport school district. File photo

Northport-East Northport school district parents packed the cafeteria of William J. Brosnan School to standing-room only Thursday night to make sure their desire for increased security presence in the wake of the Florida shootings was heard loud and clear.

“The elephant in the room is armed security,” said Anthony Raganella, a 23-year veteran of New York Police Department from East Northport. “I 100 percent, no, I 1,000 percent applaud Miller Place Superintendent Dr. Marianne Cartisano and the Miller Place school board for hiring four armed retired police officers for their security.”

“Our children’s lives are worth more than anything, spend the money and get the security guards and give them the weapons.”

— Joseph Sabia

While Miller Place parents were divided and conflicted about their district’s decision to place retired NYPD officers armed with pistols outside their school buildings as of Feb. 26, Northport-East Northport parents gave the concept a standing round of applause. Many urged the board of education trustees to urgently take similar actions on March 1.

“Our children’s lives are worth more than anything, spend the money and get the security guards and give them the weapons,” said Joseph Sabia, a former board trustee. “Arm them and get them out in the field.”

Sabia pointed out that the district’s security consultant, Leonard Devlin, a retired NYPD detective, said that 26 of the district’s 31 security personnel are former law enforcement officers with backgrounds with the NYPD and FBI. As such, many of Northport’s school guards are already trained to use firearms.

“If you go back 20 years ago on the eve of Columbine … in some ways, we’ve come a long ways,” said Superintendent Robert Banzer. “We also know there is significant work to be done.”

The superintendent and Devlin gave a presentation on the upcoming measures the district is taking to improve its nine buildings’ security and student safety.

Devlin, who was hired by the district about a year ago, said the number of security cameras districtwide has increased from 351 to nearly 400 in the last year, along with the installation of a new burglary system. He admitted his security staff would still like to see more installed.

Michele Pettignano Coggins voices her feelings on armed security guards. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

A fast pass visitor management system has been put in place at both East Northport and Northport middle schools, according to Devlin, in which guests entering the building must show his or her driver’s’ license. The license is scanned and run through a background check to ensure they are not sexual predators, according to the consultant, and has been successful twice. Upon questions from parents, Devlin admitted that the district does not currently pay to check visitors against a criminal record database even though the system can do so. The fast pass system is expected to be put into place at the high school within the next week, and at all six elementary schools within the next three months.

There is approximately $10,000 in the administration’s draft 2018-19 budget to purchase new uniforms for the district’s security guards to make them more visible by incorporating a bright, reflective gold color.

“It’s good for the staff to know where there is help, have someone on premises who is visible,” Devlin said. “It’s a deterrent.”

The superintendent said the district is ready to begin construction of security vestibules at each of its buildings, a measure that was approved by voters in February 2017. The first building will be Bellerose Avenue Elementary School and plans for two other buildings are currently in Albany awaiting state approval. Banzer said the goal is to have all complete by 2019.

Inside the buildings, the superintendent said the district is 95 percent complete replacing all door locks so they can be locked from inside the classroom by a staff member with a key.

“It’s good for the staff to know where there is help, have someone on premises who is visible.”

— Leonard Devlin

“These are two of the major initiatives that are underway in our district right now,” Banzer said.

Parents came forward armed with suggestions on how they would like to see security improved for students, staff and the buildings. Kathy Affrunti, of Northport, asked if there was serious discussion of installing metal detectors while Northport resident Michele Gloeckner asked why the district’s proposed plans for the security vestibules didn’t include bulletproof glass.

“When we conceived of this idea there is thicker glass, we didn’t necessarily think of bulletproof glass,” he said. “It is it something we can go back and reconsider.”

Other residents spoke of replacing ground-level windows with ballistic-proof glass, improved training for teachers and staff members, implementation of better mental health programs and creation of a task force to address school safety concerns.

“There should be a master wish list of what a guy like you would like to see in a perfect place, what we should do, where we are and what we need to get,” said David Stein, vice president of the board, to a security consultant. “We can’t execute on everything in a year, but we should prioritize it.”

Northport board trustees have asked Delvin to provide a full list of ideal security items and personnel in the upcoming weeks and have agreed to revisit the issue during the upcoming March budget presentations.

District administrators to review security plans March 13; have plans to install more cameras

Huntington High School. File photo.

With Florida’s school shooting still in recent memory, Huntington school officials are taking the tragedy as a reminder to review their own security plans.

Parents were given a thorough rundown of Huntington Union Free School District’s plans to keep its nearly 4,600 students safe and planned security upgrades at the Feb. 26 board of education meeting.

“Any district that would say they are well prepared to deal with any and all contingencies that could occur would be stating something that is not true,” Superintendent James Polansky said. “I believe in this district we are as actively thinking what can and may happen as any other district out there. You have to be as many steps ahead as any district can be.”

Any district that would say they are well prepared to deal with any and all contingencies that could occur would be stating something that is not true.”
—James Polansky

Kathleen Acker, Huntington’s assistant superintendent for finances and management services, walked parents through the district’s general safety plans, which can be found online, in addition to informing them that a districtwide plan and highly-detailed building specific plans exist and are filed with state and local law enforcement.

“The plans are very dynamic and always change in response,” Acker said. “We will be doing a review on March 13 to see how comprehensive it is, but there’s always room to add a bit more.”

School officials have used part of the district’s $1.4 million Smart Schools Bond Act funds from the state to upgrade existing security cameras at the high school and install additional ones districtwide this year, according to Acker. She said the district has also recently partnered with Intralogic Solutions, a security technology provider, to pilot a new safety system. The Alert Domain Awareness System focuses security cameras on fire alarms to provide a view of who pulled the trigger, a method which was employed by the Parkland shooting suspect, to determine if it’s a credible alarm.

The assistant superintendent said the district will spend approximately $100,000 to replace old doors at two elementary schools with doors that can be locked from the inside. It’s a process referred to as door hardening, according to Polansky, and it’s recommended classroom doors are locked at all times.

“Just a locked door serves as a deterrent,” he said. “If there’s a threat, they’ll keep moving.”

Huntington school district has hired one additional security guard, currently in training, and plans to review its deployment of guards throughout the district. The state has approved the district’s plans to construct a security vestibule at Jefferson Elementary School this summer, according to Acker. School officials are also waiting for state approval to build similar booths at Nathaniel Woodhull School and Southdown Primary School.

“If we can’t keep students and staff safe, nothing else matters.” 
— James Polansky

Last year, each building had video monitors installed at every greeter station so staff members could see visitors looking to gain entrance. Visitors are required to show photo identification.

The superintendent said he believes a key piece of ensuring student safety is preventative measures which have included anti-bullying programs and adding support staff — a social worker, a psychologist and more guidance counselors.

“They are not teaching kids in the classroom, but the services are indispensable,” Polansky said.

The Huntington superintendent said he had a meeting scheduled with 10 other school administrators across Huntington and Smithtown townships Feb. 27 to discuss the best ways to communicate and share security strategies in light of the recent shooting.

“Safety is our No. 1 priority,” Polansky said. “If we can’t keep students and staff safe, nothing else matters.” 

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini speaks about new police cameras at each of the seven precincts during a press conference in Greenlawn. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

Be careful what actions you take, because the police are watching.

Suffolk County Police Department officials announced the implementation of 12 overt surveillance cameras throughout the county July 10, in an effort to deter crime.

The pilot program began in October 2016 with the implementation of a single camera in both the 1st and 2nd precincts. Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy Sini said that cameras were installed in the five other precincts early June.

Two of these cameras were positioned in Huntington Town, with one displayed on top of a telephone pole outside a small shopping center at the corner of Rockne Street and Broadway in Greenlawn.

“We want people to know about it.” Sini said of the camera program. “Local government is doing everything in their power to increase the quality of life in our communities.”

Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) said that the town is dealing with the impact of several recent crimes, specifically recent shootings in Greenlawn that are “all too fresh in our minds.”

“These incidents of crime take away the feeling of safety,” Spencer said. “We will not tolerate violence in our community. These cameras put criminals on notice to say, ‘Don’t come here.’”

The cameras are full color and full motion, and can be accessed remotely through any officer or SCPD official that has access to Wi-Fi. The camera equipment was purchased for about $130,000 in a program funded by SCPD asset forfeiture dollars. However, the plan for a new real-time crime center, part of which will be to monitor the overt security cameras, will be created using SCPD’s normal operating budget.

The cameras are additions to a surveillance system that includes a number of license-plate readers along intersections and hidden cameras placed in areas such as local public parks.

“While the discreet cameras catch crime, the overt cameras do the same but they deter crime as well,” Sini said.

SCPD officials said that depending on community feedback, the cameras could be moved into different positions or to different areas.

On the topic of privacy, Sini responded that people should not expect privacy in a public space.

“The message we want to send is think twice before doing something illegal — think twice before doing something that demotes the quality of life for our residents, because we are watching,” Sini said.

Several nearby residents were happy to have the new camera system in their community.

“It’s a blessing,” said Greenlawn resident Earline Robinson about the implementation of the camera. She said she was concerned about crime, including gang activity, in the area and especially those of several shootings that happened in the community just in the past month.

President of Greenlawn Civic Association, Dick Holmes, said he had high expectations for the cameras and the police department.

“I think it’s a great idea,” he said. “We’ll see what it does and I guess we’ll see how it goes from there.”

The cameras are meant to be hung from telephone poles and are colored bright white and wrapped with a blue stripe that reads “police.” The camera positioned outside the shopping center in Greenlawn looks down at a strip that has been the site of a number of crimes, including several robberies.

One Stop Deli owner Mohammad Afzaal said that in the nine years he’s owned his store, it had been raided four times. Once, robbers broke into the safe behind the counter, and several times he had walked in to find the store in disarray. From those robberies, he estimates he lost about $11,000.

“Sometimes my camera doesn’t work,” Afzaal said, pointing to the camera hanging in the corner of his store. “But the camera out there, it will work.”

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Then there is the matter of passwords. In a life that I am forever trying to simplify, passwords are the detritus on the highway. The need for them trips me up, interrupts my momentum, as I am tooling along.

Am I the only one with this frustration?

Let me illustrate by repeating some of the inane conversations on the subject. I call my credit card company to get some information. When I am lucky enough to get through to a live, warm-bodied person, he or she will ask the dreaded question: “What is your password?” “Could you give me a hint?” I ask, since upon the advice of experts, I try not to use the same password more than once. “It might be the name of your dog,” comes the sympathetic response — if I am lucky. “My first, second, third or fourth dog?” I ask nervously. We then go through the list if the customer service person on the other end has the patience and feels like prompting me. The response might be, “It starts with a ‘T.’” That only helps 50 percent of the way since two of those four dogs had names that began with T.

Sometimes, after I’ve run down the possibilities to no avail, the nameless, faceless voice at the other end, in a desperate attempt to move along the conversation, might volunteer, “Maybe it’s your mother’s maiden name?” “The last four digits of your Social Security number?” “Your first child’s birthday?” “The last four digits of your first phone number?”

And so it goes, with ultimate success possible but not assured. By this time, several minutes have elapsed, during which I could have transacted the business at hand several times over.

I have tried writing down all my passwords. But then where do I keep the list? And protected by what password? The logical place, to me since it is usually with me, is in my cellphone. “Nooo,” caution the experts. “That is the first place a thief would look.”

OK, then, how about in my glove compartment? Being a good suburbanite, I am usually only steps from my car. Again, that is such an obvious place that, like my vehicle registration, such a list should be kept anywhere but there — despite the logical need for one’s registration when in one’s car.

But I digress, probably due to the stress of the challenge at hand. Forget about car registrations. Back to the urgent subject of passwords.

We are advised never to use the same password twice or, heaven forbid, multiple times, because once our code has been broken, our whole lives and assets lie open to villains.

We are also advised to change our passwords often. Oh, please, have mercy! If I can’t remember the original passwords, how can I reasonably be expected to remember subsequent generations of passwords? They are not like children and grandchildren after all.

I am anxious about the future use of passwords. Will I be expected to know a password to shop in the supermarket? To shop online, it’s already come to that. I can’t get on my computer without my password, so no online shopping. How about filling up the tank with gas? We already must provide our ZIP codes, but that may turn out to be too broad a code. How about to visit an emergency room? Oh, but wait. We already have to produce the qualifying information on our identification cards. But if they need to follow up with the insurance company, we had better know our password before the ER can go any further. But not to worry. We can’t get to the ER anyway because we are unable to gas up the car.

This leaves me wondering: Do our passwords keep the rest of the world out or, once forgotten, do they lock us in?

Students at Bicycle Path Pre-K/Kindergarten Center hop off the school bus. Photo from Middle Country school district

By Desirée Keegan

The Middle Country Central School District announced several new programs to engage the students throughout the Centereach and Selden communities for the 2016-17 school year.

The new programs — including specialized music, art and math curriculum for kindergarten students, as well as extra physics classes and the introduction of a Capstone Project — are made possible by the district’s strategic budgeting practices and financial planning. The academic improvements are meant to prepare students for life at the next level.

“At Middle Country, we are dedicated to educating ‘the whole child,’” Superintendent Roberta Gerold said. “We are proud of the many programs we have put in place this year that will help provide students with the resources to excel in the classroom and in the community. These brand new classroom offerings will challenge our students to think critically and prepare them for successful futures beyond the classroom.”

Students at Unity Drive Pre-K/Kindergarten Center walk into the school building on the first day. Photo from Middle Country school district
Students at Unity Drive Pre-K/Kindergarten Center walk into the school building on the first day. Photo from Middle Country school district

During the first day of school, students throughout the district took advantage of the many new opportunities provided. Kindergarten students from Unity Drive Pre-K/Kindergarten Center participated in the new art and music classes, as well as their math literacy program. These initiatives are intended to introduce students to essential Science Technology Engineering and Math concepts.

Other students are also experiencing the excitement of new programs.

Fifth-grade students throughout the district embarked on a newly introduced Capstone Project. The Capstone Project is a two-semester independent research assignment that spans fifth through 12th grade. Designated time for research is granted to seventh- and eighth-grade students, and the eighth-graders will now be able to participate in physics classes.

Outside of the classroom, other exciting news is underway, such as completed projects from the district’s 2015 Bond Referendum.

At the beginning of the school year, students and staff benefitted from the completion of roof replacements, security vestibules, high school track resurfacing, the installation of Smart Boards in the classrooms and new buses and two-student vans.

For more information about academic programs available at the Middle Country school district and a calendar of events, visit www.mccsd.net. To learn more about the student experience and news from the district, also visit www.mymiddlecountryschools.net.

Some question why district’s proposed plan covers less

File photo

After a lengthy battle, Northport-East Northport school district’s security greeters have been offered health care benefits. But the fight may not be over.

Although the district has presented health insurance plans to the nine full-time greeters, some say the plans are expensive and don’t treat them the same as other district employees.

The duties of a greeter, also known as a security monitor, include monitoring who is coming and going from a school building, assisting in late arrivals and early releases and helping parents get forgotten items to the students, among other day-to-day tasks that may arise. The position was established about 10 years ago, according to the district supervisor of security, and the district employs one full-time greeter for each of their six elementary schools, two middle schools and one high school.

Under the plans, the district would pay 60 percent of the greeters’ health coverage, according to Diane Smith, the greeter who has led the charge for benefits.

Contracts on the district’s website indicate that it pays 75 percent of superintendent Robert Banzer’s coverage, 82 percent for administrators, 79 percent for teachers and 86 percent for security guards.

Diane Smith has been asking for health care benefits for her and her fellow employees for months. Photo from Smith
Diane Smith has been asking for health care benefits for her and her fellow employees for months. Photo from Smith

Smith said she is grateful the district granted greeters health care coverage —“I’m happy to get that, it’s fabulous to have any kind of a break,” Smith said in an email — but she wants treatment equal to fellow employees, specifically security guards.

When asked about the difference between greeters and security guards, the district said in a statement, “Security guards and security monitors are civil service appointments. Both positions require security certifications and the ongoing completion of security training.”

As is, the employee contribution for the greeters’ proposed insurance on a family plan “will cost us exactly every other entire paycheck,” she said. “How did they come up with that [number]?”

Smith’s salary is $20,000.

According to Smith, the greeters were offered more affordable plans, one of which would have covered 75 percent of health care costs, but they wouldn’t have provided coverage for families. She said in addition to working as a greeter full time, she has been working a second job part time to pay for private health insurance for herself and her two kids.

“Each year the district examines its policies in an effort to further benefit our valued employees,” Banzer said in a statement through the district’s public relations firm, Syntax. “Through prudent budgeting and research with our providers, we are pleased to offer multiple health care coverage options to our greeters. Although the district has not provided this coverage in the past, as it is not required, we felt it was an important step to make this available to them.”

Despite her criticism, Smith expressed gratitude.

“It’s still really good,” she said in a phone interview Monday. “I would not turn it down. It would help my income for sure.”

Smith had a meeting with a district insurance specialist on Wednesday to get some more questions answered and ultimately decide on a plan.

According to her, the greeters must sign up by Feb. 1 to begin getting coverage.


Northport-East Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Northport school district’s security greeters are on the verge of receiving health benefits — thanks in large part to the efforts of one of their own.

Diane Smith is in her seventh year as a greeter at Fifth Avenue Elementary School, and said she has never received health benefits, despite numerous pleas.

“Before this position was created, anyone could go to the office and often stroll right down to classrooms, creating a lot of interruptions,” Smith said in an interview after the meeting Thursday night. “We finally have some boundaries.”

Greeter’s duties include monitoring who is coming and going from school buildings, assisting in late arrivals and early releases and helping parents get forgotten items to the students, among other day-to-day tasks that may arise.

According to the district supervisor of security, the position of greeters was created about 10 years ago.

Over that time, the responsibilities of the job have changed, with greater emphasis placed on security in the aftermath of violent school-related incidents like the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn.

“We [greeters] know the parents, grandparents and babysitters, as well as most of the personnel that visit our buildings,” Smith said in an email on Friday.

Smith said she has been working a second job to afford health care, while continuously searching for another job that would give her benefits, though she is hesitant to leave the Northport school district because she loves the job.

Smith said she has been expressing her desire for health care for the nine full-time greeters via letters and in person for years, to the school board and to district officials. She showed up on Thursday to take her campaign to the next level.

So far her efforts have been fruitless, but that could soon change.

“[The greeters are] going to get an opportunity for health insurance,” Superintendent Robert Banzer said during the meeting. “It just happened to be so ironic that she showed up today, because we just talked about it and kind of said, ‘Yes let’s go ahead and make it right and make sure they have an opportunity for health insurance.’”

Banzer attributed the delay in providing health insurance to the greeters to a switch from part-time to full-time designation.

Smith was skeptical when she left the meeting Thursday. She said it was more of the same rhetoric she’s been hearing since she began her battle.

However, as of Friday, she is approaching the situation with more optimism after receiving an email from Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Irene McLaughlin that established Jan. 19 as a meeting date for the greeters and members of the district to sit down and discuss health care options.

“I am very guardedly optimistic,” Smith said.