Tuesday, Nov 29th

School Safety: It Takes a Village

emergency planKeeping kids safe in school is a community wide effort, as discussed at a joint informative program, Safety in Our Schools, hosted by the Scarsdale PTC, SHS and SMS PTA on Wednesday November 9, 2022. The presentation included a discussion on the District’s Approach to Safety, Security & Emergency Management (SSEM), the District’s collaboration with community partners as well as plans for the future. The presentation began with Interim Superintendent Dr. Drew Patrick introducing an impressive panel of both school and community experts including:

• Drew Patrick, Interim Superintendent
• Eric Rauschenbach, Assistant Superintendent for SPED & Student Services
• Michael Spedaliere, Chief of Safety, Security, and Emergency Management
• Andy Matturro, Chief of the Scarsdale Police Department
• Maria Vilanova, Assistant Director, Scarsdale Edgemont Family Counseling Services
• Natalie Ramos, Youth Outreach Worker, Scarsdale Edgemont Family Counseling Services
• Peter Faustino, School Psychologist
• Lauren Pomerantz, School Social Worker
• Chris Coughlin, Assistant Principal Scarsdale Middle School
• Chris Griffin, Assistant Principal, Scarsdale High School
• Melissa Feinberg, Fox Meadow Elementary Principal
• Berit Berger, Exec. Asst. County District Attorney

Many parents who attended the presentation were immediately impressed with just how many experts routinely come together to help think about, plan, and work collaboratively to formulate our District’s approach to safety in our schools. As Dr. Patrick pointed out, the most comprehensive approach to keeping students safe heavily relies on information shared by representatives from the community, school district, and village, county, and state government. According to Patrick, our District also relies on research provided by The United States Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center and “Comprehensive School Threat Assessment Guidelines: Intervention and Support to Prevent Violence” by Dewey Cornell.

In addition, the Scarsdale School District employs the Altaris Consulting Group which provides a framework for “safety, security, and emergency preparedness in K-12 schools.” This framework, based on on-going research and the latest/best practices includes:

Prevention (Student Support)
District-wide Planning (Safety Plan)
Building-level Planning (Practice Drills)
Building and Grounds (Physical Deterrence)
Equipment
Technology (Integrated Systems)
Protocol Planning (Lockdown Protocol)

Dr. Patrick went on to explain that Scarsdale’s approach includes three main prongs: Prevention, Response, and Improvement. Prevention is arguably one of the most important aspects of a safety plan because it allows for intervention before an emergency situation. Prevention focuses on increasing protective factors such as creating a classroom and school climate that is inclusive and promotes a sense of belonging and well-being, in addition to making sure each student has a trusted adult to turn to for support. Prevention also involves mitigating risk factors by providing programs that target students at risk. The District has increasingly focused on the well-being of its community members by providing more Social Emotional Learning (SEL), providing opportunities for community building, and assessing the mental health of students at each level. For an example of this work Dr. Patrick outlined a program called Break the Hold that will teach our middle school students important mental health skills.

Another part of prevention work is ongoing threat assessment which in Scarsdale involves utilizing threat assessment teams.

-Each Building has a formal Threat Assessment Team
-Engages the Dewey Cornell Threat Assessment Protocol
-Team comprised of Administrators, Mental Health Counselors, Nurses, Law Enforcement, the Chief of SSEM, and the Asst. Supt . for Special Education And Student Services
-Determines transient vs. Substantive threats and appropriate follow up
-Intervention vs. Disciplinary

Physical deterrence is another chief aspect of prevention. While Dr. Patrick explained that the District wants our school buildings to feel positive and welcoming, there is a balance between that and making sure our physical spaces are safe and secure. In recent years our district has taken many steps to improve security in each of our school buildings some of which include making sure each school has:

-Secure Points of Entry
-Safety Monitors
-Visitor Management
-Expanding Camera Network
-Glass Mitigation

Each of the schools in our district also has a Building Emergency Response Team (BERT). These teams are fully trained and routinely engage the entire school community in safety drills and evacuations. Scarsdale Edgemont Family Counseling Services, the Scarsdale Fire and Police Departments and from the Scarsdale Volunteer Ambulance Corp. all contribute to the analysis of drills, lockdowns, and evacuations and provide continual feedback. As was explained in the presentation, response training should consist of simple and repeatable behaviors that are continually practiced and evaluated over time. For the sake of consistency and cohesion, training in all Scarsdale school involves six protocols (The Simple Six):

-Evacuation
-Fire Evacuation
-Lockout
-Lockdown
-Hold/Shelter in Place
-Staff All-Call

Practice of the Simple Six also includes times and areas of transitions as well as outdoor spaces. What’s more, the District’s Response Plan entails quarterly meetings with the SPD, reporting structures, and a FEMA Incident Command Structure that all help facilitate quick and productive responses to any emergency.

The next part of the presentation focused on the NY State Red Flag Law also known as the Extreme Risk Protection Law (ERPO). Berit Berger, Exec. Asst. County District Attorney explained that the “law prevents individuals who show signs of being a threat to themselves or others from purchasing or possessing any kind of firearm. The law also empowers teachers, school personnel and mental health professionals to prevent shootings by pursuing court intervention.” Ms. Berger explained that in 56% of mass shootings, the shooter exhibited dangerous warning signs before the shooting and that the majority of those shootings were with legally owned guns. Examples of these behaviors might include:

Text, calls, and social media posts that include threats of violence; threats to attack public spaces, suicidal ideation

-Person threatens to harm self or others and also has access to firearms
-Person impaired by drugs or alcohol who also has access to firearms
-Erratic behavior during welfare check or other police response coupled with threats of violence

Ms. Berger went on to spell out that firearm use is NOT required for an ERPO and that ERPO’s can be utilized to prevent future access to firearms. Police can also take guns that don’t belong to the respondent and in addition, owners of guns must be able to show police that they legally own the guns and that they do not present a danger. Ms. Berger expressed the profound importance of the slogan: “If you see something, say something.”

The presentation was then opened up to a Q and A session. One community member asked if any of our tax-payer’s money from the recent school bond was put to use to cover safety improvements? Dr. Patrick explained that yes, some of the bond money covered the costs of adding security vestibules, cameras, key and lock pads, and much more at each school.

Next, a parent stated that some social emotional learning (SEL) at SHS takes place in Civ. Ed. and in Freshman Seminar and at SMS SEL takes place in Keystone. The parent wondered how SEL is taught in elementary schools. Melissa Feinberg, the principal of Fox Meadow described how at the elementary school level, SEL is embedded into the daily curriculum. Conflict resolution skills, how to identify trusted adults, and how to self-regulate are all threaded into literature and practiced through role modeling and role playing. It was also made clear that Scarsdale’s small class sizes plays an integral role in primary intervention.

Another parent questioned why we don’t use armed security personnel in our schools. Both Mr. Rauschenbach and Dr. Patrick made clear that the Scarsdale School District has no appetite for non-police, armed security. They explained that police officers have intense and continual training to know how to best respond with the use of a firearm and having a security guard that is not subjected to the same level of training to respond to stressful school situations, is quite a scary thought. Our administrators also mentioned that research doesn’t support the effectiveness of armed guards in schools but that a focus on preventative measures has proven to be crucial. While the safety and security of our students are of utmost importance, Dr. Patrick also feels that having armed security guards would drastically change our school culture.
Though armed security guards aren’t a part of the District's approach to school safety, Dr. Patrick made it known that the SPD performs walk-throughs of our schools on a daily basis. Officers also constantly work in collaboration with school administrators on a variety of issues. Furthermore, police officers are encouraged to take their breaks and work on paperwork while sitting in the school’s parking lots.

Yet another parent asked if cameras cover the school playgrounds. Dr. Patrick answered that yes, administrators in each building were tasked with identifying priority areas where kids gather. In addition to having cameras in these areas, roving security monitors accompany students while they are outside.

One of the last questions of the evening pertained to cell phone coverage at the schools or more accurately, the lack thereof. Two parents spoke about their concern over having zero cell service in case of an emergency. Our administrators explained that the Scarsdale Board of Education in addition to our Village officials have been working hard to improve service in our town. Village officials have adjusted codes to allow for carriers to expand their service. The high school is also trying to get “boosters” in areas around the school with no service. Until carriers agree to the work, all coaches have access to radios that directly alerts our first responders.

At the end of the evening it was clear that our District owns a thorough, comprehensive, and well-thought out approach to safety in our schools. See more here:

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