While school safety has always been our highest priority, the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida last month has brought a renewed focus on this issue to communities across the country, including our own. Our District Safety Team met this week to discuss some immediate steps that we are taking to restrict public access to our buildings during the school day and to identify areas of continuing focus.
Similar to a change made at the elementary level earlier this year, we have established arrival times at the middle schools and the high school. Additionally, we are implementing uniform sign-in procedures for all of our schools. We are also reducing the number of entrances used to access the high school.
Following the work of the Safety Committee, we shared information with high school students at a well-attended Student Forum on Thursday afternoon. Students provided valuable feedback that will help inform our plans moving forward.
Doors Locked Until Designated Times
Effective on Monday, March 5, the doors of all schools will be locked until a uniform student entry time, by level, based on when staff members are present. All doors will continue to be locked throughout the school day.
At Niskayuna High School: Doors will open to students at 7 a.m. During morning arrival, students will be able to enter at only three locations: The West Entrance facing Balltown Road; the East Entrance near the Bus Loop; and the Athletic area.
At the middle schools: Doors will open to students at 8 a.m. (7:30 for students in chorus). Students – and all visitors – will continue to access the building through the Main Entrance only. Additionally, the doorways between the District Office and Van Antwerp Middle School are now closed.
At the elementary schools: Doors will open to students at 7:45 a.m. (A change of this nature was made earlier this winter.) Students – and all visitors – will continue to access the building through the Main Entrance only.
Please note that students who arrive at school prior to these times will not be allowed in the building. There is no guarantee of supervision if students arrive to school prior to the designated times (unless they arrive on the school bus). If parents or students have arranged to meet a teacher or staff member prior to the time the doors open, the teacher or staff member will need to meet them at the entrance.
Once the school day begins, all school doors are locked for the remainder of the student day, a continuation of current practice.
Public Access to the High School and the Pool
Additionally, through our conversations with the Safety Committee and students, concerns were raised regarding the swimming pool at the high school, public access to the school during the day, and supervision issues in general. As such, effective Monday, March 5, we are taking the following steps to restrict public access to the high school during the school day.
- During the school day, access to the high school – for both students and visitors – will be limited to two locations: the West Entrance facing Balltown Road and the East Entrance near the Bus Loop.
- Community access to the pool will be suspended until the district can work out a plan to address the safety concerns. We will share more information as soon as it is available.
Uniform Sign-in Procedures
On Monday, March 12, uniform school sign-in procedures will take effect across the district. We will continue to utilize the buzzer/intercom system. When visitors enter the school, they will need to present a valid photo ID (currently the case at the high school) and they will notice a new sign-in sheet that asks for more specific information about their visit.
Areas of Continued Focus
Our District Safety Committee feels that the above actions represent the appropriate immediate next steps in our school safety efforts, as we continue to review protocols and training needs in all areas. This committee includes district administrators, Board of Education members, police and fire officials, operational staff, and teachers.
Areas of continued focus for the committee and the district include:
- Working closely with first responders and other outside experts to identify and/or update training and exercises for faculty and staff, including in areas such as mental health awareness and protocols and emergency response, as well as reviewing the drills we conduct with students;
- A significant upgrade to our security camera system this spring, which will provide improved capabilities district-wide;
- Considering changes to the physical space in our schools to improve security as part of the upcoming capital project; and
- Strengthening social and emotional support for students in the upcoming budget proposal.
Students Play an Important Role
We want students to know the important role that they play in school safety and the well-being of their classmates. We continue to encourage students to talk to an adult at school if they see or hear something concerning. Please help us by reinforcing this “see something, say something” approach and make sure your child has an adult at school they feel comfortable talking with if needed.
Finally, the tragedy in Florida and heightened focus on security in general can be difficult for us all, including students. Support is available at school. Please don’t hesitate to contact a teacher, school counselor or administrator if your child needs any assistance.
We will continue to work with students, parents, staff and community members on the critical issue of school safety and keep you informed of our efforts. Thank you for your attention to this information.
Cosimo Tangorra, Jr.
Superintendent of Schools