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.