Improvements in school security at Oyster Bay-East Norwich schools

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Dr. Laura Seinfeld, the superintendent of the Oyster Bay-East Norwich School District, has been focused on improving school safety since 2015. As a result, the district has had security and safety protocols in place that other districts are searching for funding to implement now. And this summer, Oyster Bay-East Norwich added more.

“We are ahead of the curve,” Seinfeld said, “because we were catapulted to do it because of a set of circumstances.”

Seinfeld was referring to the alleged terroristic threat made by James H. Vernon School custodian Brian Hulsen three years ago. Nassau County police said that Hulsen told a teacher on Sept. 4, 2015, that she “better be absent the day they fire me because I’m going to come in here and Columbine this [expletive].” Hulsen, who was allegedly upset about an interaction with another different teacher, was referring to the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado in April of 1999. It was reported that he also made a gesture with his finger, mimicking the shooting of a gun. (More details on the incident appear on Page 3.)

A bond was being considered at the time to build a new art and music wing at the high school, and for the addition of air conditioning in the high school auditorium. It was set for a vote that December. The bond was reworked to add security funding, and passed on Dec. 17, 2015. It totaled just over $7.8 million, and included $826,000 for safety and security protocols.

“Thankfully, Dr. Seinfeld had the foresight to think of this a couple of years ago,” said Michael Cipriani, the district’s assistant superintendent for finance and operations. “And we were able to pay for it with bond money.”

Thirteen part-time, unarmed security officers were hired in 2015. Now there are 20. Seinfeld said that all have law enforcement backgrounds, and that students know who they are if they need any help.

Last year, a Nassau County police officer was assigned to each district to serve as a liaison with the federal Department of Homeland Security. Seinfeld said that district officials meet with the assigned officer frequently, and he has attended district safety team meetings. He conducted a safety audit at each of the schools last spring. “The officer was incredibly impressed with how proactive we have been as a district related to safety and security,” Seinfeld said.

Door locks

One of the biggest changes enacted this summer was the installation of uniform door locks on classrooms and offices in all of the district’s buildings. In the event of a lockdown, the staff can press a red button on the inside of the door to activate a deadbolt. Seinfeld said that the locking system installation is nearly complete, and added that due to its popularity, the district had to wait for the manufacturer to deliver the components. The doors also have new universal locks that can be opened from the outside if needed.

The cost, approximately $200,000, was covered by the 2015 bond.

Improved signage

Another visible enhancement is new signage in school hallways. Directional signs indicate the locations of classrooms and offices. In an emergency, they will help responders find a particular room faster.

Also, the addition of room signs above classroom doors is being completed, to also assist responders.

The cost for the additions, which Cipriani said was a few thousand dollars, was covered by the 2017-18 budget, which totaled $56.3 million.

Bus cameras

The district is piloting cameras, which are visible at the front of its buses. But Seinfeld said this was not a response to reports of bullying. The bus company — Hendrickson Bus Corporation — has told her that students are generally well behaved.

“Having the cameras was discussed at a school board meeting, and we felt we wanted to provide as much safety and security as possible,” Seinfeld said, adding that parents were notified. “We are monitoring it, and will assess how valuable it is. We know the students are aware of the cameras, and hope this will help to curtail any inappropriate behavior.”

The $20,000 cost of the cameras was also covered by the 2017-18 budget.

Security until 9 p.m.

Coverage by unarmed security officers has been extended at the schools if activities take place until 9 p.m. A form has always been required before permission is given for a community group to use a district building, but there was no security presence in the past. This year, $100,000 was utilized for the security officers, from the $57.6 million 2018-19 budget.

“We value the participation and partnership with our community organizations, and we knew if we passed along the cost to them it could be detrimental to [their] operations,” Seinfeld said. The groups have said they appreciate the gesture, she added.

Security vestibules

Security vestibules had already been installed in all of the schools before the summer. But one, at Vernon, was reconfigured over the summer break, Seinfeld said.

A vestibule includes cameras, a visitor management system, card readers and strategic door openings. Visitors must be buzzed into the lobby and give their identifications to a security guard who sits behind a window, much like a teller at a bank. IDs are scanned through the district’s database system, and the guard allows entry into the building. Visitors are issued badges, which include their photo, to be worn while they are in the building. They are escorted to their destinations in the school.