By Marcello Iaia
HILLTOWNS —A half-dozen parents questioned the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School Board on Monday about school security; one recommended setting up a patrol of volunteers.
The school shooting in Newtown, Conn. Friday fueled the discussion about how the district could be more secure.
“It was a little dinky town that you never heard of and, like I said, I’d never heard of Berne before I moved here,” said one district parent.
A buzzer system, where secured doors are unlocked with a button, and an intercom is used to communicate, was high on Superintendent Paul Dorward’s list of preferred security measures. He included magnetic doors, which could be used to easily identify any vulnerable access points to the school buildings.
“Anybody at anytime can walk into our school...and walk up and down the halls, and they’re not even questioned,” said district parent Patricia Lee.
Dorward said the District Safety Plan and building plans would be reviewed when Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple visits Thursday morning. The two documents have portions that are not public, Dorward said, because releasing them could “compromise our ability to deal with an emergency.”
Sheriff Apple told The Enterprise he would primarily communicate that his office is an available resource in the district’s security.
“We’re going to go through and do any tweaking that should be done and if there’s any updating that we didn’t know about,” said Apple.
Some districts will not need updating, said Apple, but the sheriff’s office checks with area businesses and public buildings annually to have an accurate understanding of their security systems.
The handful of parents at Monday’s school board meeting wanted more immediate reform, like placing more adults at entrances to supervise parking-lot crossings and halls.
The current practice for visitors to sign in with the main office, state their purpose, and be escorted by a host, is overshadowed by the more common circumstance of people who know one another coming in and out freely.
“Then there’s the sixth-graders that come back and forth through the parking lot that nobody even monitors,” said Lee. The district’s elementary school is a short distance from its secondary school, and sixth-graders take classes in both.
Increasing supervision of doors and students, Dorward said, is not possible with staff members that do not have free time in their schedules. Lee suggested parents pay for background checks and volunteer to create a presence in the school.
“If you look, the tragedies that have been happening have happened by people who are known in the schools,” said board member Maureen Sikule.
Tentative pricing last year was around $8,000 for the buzzer system and $22,000 for the magnetic locks, said Dorward.
Board President Vasilios Lefkaditis said he moved “Discuss School Security” to just under public discussion in the agenda when he saw parents were present for that topic.
“I asked for show of hands of how many people came to discuss security. Every hand went up,” said Lefkaditis.
Board member Gerald Larghe, who has helped design military armories, said responses to a shooter should be considered in developing security measures.
“This is going to get worse over time in society, in my opinion,” said Larghe, referring to such shootings as took place in Connecticut.
He suggested BKW staff learn incident planning, including free resources that teach such simple things as where to stand in a room and what non-lethal methods there are for stopping someone with a gun.
Larghe noted that Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary was breached through its glass windows. Bulletproof lamination on school windows, he said, would not be a large cost.
Lefkaditis said the recent opening of the school halls for walkers “could pose a security risk.” The board gave approval for walkers using the track to come into the elementary school when the weather is too severe, Monday through Friday, on days the building is open. Walkers would leave a half-hour before buses arrived with students, around 7:30 a.m.
“It’s not that we’re crazy,” said Karen White, a BKW parent, referring to district measures to deter a shooter. “It’s something that has never been thought about in this area, ever.”