Following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, last Friday, concerned parents spoke passionately about the security and accountability, or lack thereof, in the New Rochelle schools during a tense Board of Education meeting Tuesday night.
Richard Organisciak, superintendent of schools, said the New Rochelle school district has taken all the necessary precautions to ensure the students’ safety. Some of these safety plans include the completion of the Handbook for School Safety Personnel; training district safety staff; testing camera buzzers and updating all School Safety Plan and Procedural Manuals, he said.
(The entire list of safety plans can be read in the attached PDF.)
Organisciak cited yesterday’s oil leak at Columbus Elementary School as an example of the effectiveness of New Rochelle school district’s response to an emergency.
“[W]e had a situation at Columbus when the oil gasket blew, and we couldn’t use the school. There was an evacuation plan that was followed. And it was followed immediately,” he said. “As soon as people got to the school, they were directed as to where they would proceed. Parents were given information and ConnectEd messages went out.”
But parents remained skeptical and questioned just how safe New Rochelle’s schools really are.
Azeema Hartley, who has three children in New Rochelle schools, including two in George Davis Elementary School, said, “I don’t think evacuation plans are anyone’s concern. I think what the concern is is someone showing up at our schools. When I go to our school [referring to George Davis Elementary School] I can just walk in anytime. A door is never locked.”
Hartley suggested a panic button at each of the schools that will send a direct message to the police and fire department, notifying them of an emergency, and more simply, locking the doors.
Parents continued to voice their concerns about the safety of the schools and expressed their frustration at the lack of progress.
Vicki Lesser, who has three children in New Rochelle schools, said, “For months I have been one of the few parents attending Board of Education meetings and listening to very few bold members of our community press this board for answers to concerns about safety and security failures in our schools, only to be brushed off again and again.”
Hartley said she approached the principal of Davis Elementary School, William Harrell, about security measures, but was told to bring it up with the Board of Education.
At the beginning of the meeting, Board President Chrisanne Petrone read a statement about the Newtown tragedy, which concluded with the line, “If parents have direct concerns, we encourage them to speak directly to their building administrators.”
“If we express a concern to our principals, they tell us to bring it up with the Board,” Lesser said. “If we address the Board, we are told to take it up with our principals. There is no accountability.”
That same sentiment was echoed by many other parents, including Jorda Goldstein, who said, “There’s a great deal of disappointment here in the room about the level of accountability and transparency about the concerns of the community.”
Many of the parents, including Valerie Skolnic, who has two children in New Rochelle schools and one that just graduated New Rochelle High School this past year, recommended a separate Board of Education meeting designated solely to security.
“I feel like we are expressing our concerns…but we aren’t getting any answers,” said Skolnic. “I hope we will, in the next month or two, have a meeting to address that concern and allow us to speak and answer our questions.”
Organisciak said after the meeting, the board will discuss the possibility of that happening, but there are no plans as of now.