Author Topic: Hackensack Schools Security  (Read 3052 times)

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Hackensack Schools Security
« on: January 25, 2013, 06:22:06 PM »
Security precautions a serious topic in Hackensack schools
Friday January 25, 2013, 2:51 PM
Hackensack Chronicle

Though school security is on the forefront of numerous parental discussions, Hackensack and South Hackensack school districts' focal point on the safety and security of their faculty and students is not a new concept. On the contrary, according to numerous school officials, drills, safety measures and protocols have been part of the school system for quite some time. The importance of safety has long been an important issue that, according to Hackensack Interim Superintendent Joseph Abate, he has placed on the forefront since taking his position a year ago.

Schools throughout Hackensack, like the Middle School, top, and High School, bottom, as well as South Hackensack's Memorial Elementary School, have been vigilant when it comes to their security measures using drills, one-point entry systems, among other procedures, to make sure their faculties and students are safe.

"The very first initiative that we started as a result of my coming here was an upgrade of all of our security because I noticed that our schools were very vulnerable," he said. As a result over the course of last year, we've been doing some significant security initiatives."

This noticeable concern, according to Abate, has led to various changes in the city's schools.

"In our middle school we've instituted a single point of entry with a kiosk," he said. "As you visit the school, you hit a buzzer, you talk to someone, they let you in. You need to come to the kiosk, they will check your ID, and they will give you a badge if everything is OK to move around the building. That's one very strong and very tight thing that we did."

Abate also said that in the summer of 2012, all Hackensack middle schools underwent a major initiative.

"We've always had the ability to see individuals at the door, talk to them and buzz them in," he said. "However, that system was antiquated; the pictures on the monitors were very grainy and you couldn't see them very well. We upgraded all of those in all our middle schools for the start of this school year."

Besides these technological upgrades, Abate said that new gates and locks were installed, as well as panic bars, where necessary. Faculty, and even students at certain school levels, were given ID cards that allow for them to open locked doors with a card swipe.

Drills are also common practice, due to the fact that they are state-mandated. These exercises are taken very seriously as they provide insight on how to better manage an emergency situation and give those at the schools - both faculty and students - needed practice on what to do and how to handle themselves when they are presented with a particular |scenario.

"We have a school security plan in place that we practice," Hackensack High School Principal James Montesano said. "Every single month you have to do two drills. One of them is a fire drill. And then you have to do either an active shooter [drill], an evacuation [drill]&there are a number of other drills that we have to partake in."

These drills, according to Montesano, are necessary in order to assess the reaction of both students and staff in the case of an actual emergency.

"We have almost 2,000 children so you need every child to be sure they know why we do what we do," he said. "This is why we have a school security plan in place that we practice."

Drills, consistent language and safety efforts were put to the test twice in less than one month, when Hackensack High School was evacuated during classes one school day due to an unidentified back pack and another time during after school hours when a teacher received a bomb threat via email. The school was shut down within minutes and students evacuated quickly to their predetermined area while the police department, K-9 units and bomb squads swarmed the school campus during these scares.

The unidentified back pack proved to be a student's unattended bag and the bomb threat was a prank by two students. However, the security measures and the faculty's and students' reactions |were on full display during these occurrences.

Hackensack Middle School Principal David Petrella also said that drills are extremely important because they familiarize students with certain procedures and language, which is used all throughout the various education levels within the Hackensack School District.

Chief School Administrator of South Hackensack's Memorial Elementary School, Dr. William DeFabiis also commented on the importance of the drills.

"There are four drills that schools are mandated to take part in, including at Memorial [School]," he said. "There are lockdown, active shooter, evacuation and bomb threat drills that are enforced."

"Students start at the elementary level with these drills and the language and words associated with them," Petrella said. "When they come to [middle school] they are already familiar with them. The procedures and language are the same from elementary school to high school. We are consistent. It is district-wide. This way the children are familiar and will always Know the routine and understand what is expected of them during certain emergencies or situations."

Petrella also mentioned how the Hackensack police and fire departments have been great as well, providing their presence during large gatherings at the school.

"We have a great relationship with [the police and fire departments]," he said. "Every time we have an event that we expect will result in a large gathering, we always have an [armed] officer present."

Abate touched upon this point at the Board of Education meeting on Jan. 14, as well. He explained to all those present how this is something that he is looking toward continuing implementing on all levels.

DeFabiis said that Memorial School also has a great relationship with its police, EMS and fire departments.

"One of the things that we have done at random, is have an officer from [South Hackensack's] police department, come to the school to check our security and how we function on a regular school day," he said. "[The officer] stays for an extended period of time the day that he drops in."

DeFabiis also said that Memorial School, which is school to over 200 students from Pre-K to Grade 8, has a secure system of locked doors and entry ways and a procedure of an individual having to be approved to come in.

According to Montesano, Abate "has been pretty influential and at the forefront of insuring the buildings are safe for the students. Our job [as administrators] is to turn in key information, not only to the staff, but to the students as well."

Petrella not only praises Abate for the district's security measures, but the students for being able to learn and adapt to the security procedures enforced within the school system. He also said that though he is pleased with the security in the schools, there is always room for improvement.

However, Abate does not believe his security measures are all the components necessary to keep students informed and safe. Because of this, he said, the school district's website has links to many informational and helpful sites that can aid parents on "how to speak to kids and what websites parents can go to get information on safety."

While necessary precautions have been put in place, Abate said tragedies, like that in Newtown, Conn. on Dec. 14 -which claimed the lives of 20 children and six adults -will spark concern and allow the school system to join in discussion and reassess their security measures as parents, children and faculty alike try to work together to prevent such incidents from occurring.

"I can tell you that I was on the phone [the weekend following the Newtown shooting] with all the principals," he said. "They were in constant contact with their staff - whether it was by email or phone. There were various meetings at the start of Monday morning [and some that will take place in the following day] all related to security, just reviewing security measures and making sure that everyone knew exactly what they were doing and to check for any flaws."

Abate said that to get a good sense as to how secure the schools were and how the recent security measures were implemented he "was in the schools [Monday, following the tragedy].

Despite being confident with the security measures in place, Abate said he cannot guarantee "100 percent" the safety of all.

"Obviously, I can't give people guarantees in cases like these," he said. "But, at the same, I am comfortable with our security and its upgrades&We've, pretty much, have done our due diligence. We've installed everything that needed to be installed over the course of last year and at this point in time we're just going to re-enforce what it is that we do."

Hackensack's elementary school principals did not return calls for comment.


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Re: Hackensack Schools Security
« Reply #1 on: February 03, 2013, 04:11:14 PM »
Poll: opinion split on putting cops in schools
Posted on Sunday, February 3, 2013 1:19 pm
by John Ensslin
The Record

Last weeks poll found Bergen Beat readers fairly divided on the question of whether to put police officers in schools to prevent shootings.
In an unscientific survey conducted between Jan. 28 to Feb. 2, 35 percent of the respondents favored stationing police officers in the school.
Another 18 percent preferred employing a school resource officer.
Only one respondent favored placing armed guards in the schools.
However, 24 percent said none of these options are a good use of taxpayer dollars.
Another 18 percent said they had no opinion on the subject.
A total of 17 people responded to the poll. Thanks to everyone who took part.

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Re: Hackensack Schools Security
« Reply #2 on: February 09, 2013, 01:46:53 PM »
Hackensack schools get security overhaul
Saturday, February 9, 2013
The Record

HACKENSACK Camera dead spots. Broken buzzers. Open doors and hallways during evening hours.

Hackensack Middle School secretary Mayra Ocasio using a minimonitor to see who wants to come into the school. She can then buzz them in.

Interim Superintendent Joseph Abate said he noticed security problems in the six school buildings when he started the job in Hackensack a year ago. The flaws, he said, left city schools vulnerable to theft, vandalism and terrorism.

"The flaws were obvious," Abate said. "If theyre obvious to me, theyll be obvious to others."

Last year, the district added cameras, replaced doors and locks, and tightened security at entrances to make schools safer. More improvements are planned, including the hiring of police to guard large events. Parents and officials say the schools are safe, but theyll aim for safer at a time of district child-luring incidents and threats, as well as the mass shooting deaths at a Connecticut elementary school in December.

The high school went into lockdown twice since December once after an employee found an abandoned bag, which turned out to be harmless, another time after a student emailed a bomb threat to a teacher in what he told police was a prank.

In October, a man tried to lure an 11-year-old middle school student into his car at a location about seven blocks from his school, police reported.

"I think [the security upgrades] are a precaution," said Nancy Wallace, a middle school parent and Parent Teacher Association treasurer. "I dont think its a bad thing to have, especially with the situations going on in the world today."

The district spent $319,000 in two budget cycles for security improvements, using money from the maintenance budget, Abate said.

At the middle school, 15 cameras were added to cover dead spots around halls, stairways and an elevator at a cost of $30,000. Those dead spots, Abate said, were known to the students.

"If they wanted to do something mischievous, theyd go to that spot," he said.

The district also created a single point of entry at the middle school and added a kiosk in the front area for visitors to check in.

At the high school, gates were installed so parts of the building not in use could be sealed off during evening events. In the elementary schools, communications systems were upgraded in places where buzzers sometimes did not work and monitor images were too grainy.

The district also replaced glass doors with steel ones, installed new locks, and bought fobs, or small electronic devices to be swiped for identification purposes.

The work was done in the first half of 2012. After the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December, the district reviewed security again with input from retired school resource officer Kenneth Martin and his replacement, Luis Furcal.

The review led to changes, including a plan to hire police to guard off-hours events like back-to-school nights and holiday assemblies.

The district will pay a police officer, in most cases the school resource officer, $30 an hour to staff such events. In the elementary schools, the job will be done by trained volunteers known as special police.

The district also will air a "loop" voice message with instructions during lockdowns and security drills, and will enclose the kiosk at the middle school entrance where visitors check in.

Abate, who retired as superintendent of Lyndhurst in 2010, said security problems had gone unaddressed in recent years because of frequent turnover at the top.

School board President Veronica Bolcik McKenna said the board and public welcomed the improvements with the exception of one or two complaints about "big brother" under camera surveillance.

"Its the world we live in," she said. "You cannot have a productive learning environment unless the children and staff feel safe."