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Queens Chronicle

After Sandy Hook, security in New York City schools is a hot issue

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Posted: Thursday, March 7, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 10:58 am, Thu Mar 14, 2013.

It’s been nearly three months since a gunman massacred 20 children and six adults at a school in Newtown, Conn.

But while the issues of gun control and mental illness have topped the agenda in the tragedy’s wake, for many parents, administrators and officials, security at schools is a hot topic.

Locally, the issue was pushed to the forefront last month when The Forum published a story in which a reporter entered PS 146 in Howard Beach during the school day to find no security and was able to reach a hallway with classrooms.

The issue led to an array of concerns and complaints from parents at the school, who felt the story may have exposed the school to danger.

The city Department of Education did not respond to a request for comment on that story.

Parents and teachers at PS 146 declined to discuss the subject on record, but most said the tragedy in Connecticut has left them with some concerns.

“It’s definitely an issue on your mind,” said one parent who declined to give her name. “Especially when you have children the same age [as the Newtown victims].”

The Forum reported that its reporter was able to access the school through an open door, though many buildings lock their doors from the outside — but typically not the inside — or rig them so that they cannot be opened from outside.

Most schools — especially high schools where teenagers commute without parents or guardians — have “closed campuses” which ban students from leaving the building during the school day.

Nick Comaianni, president of the Community Education Council in District 24 — which covers Corona, Elmhurst, Glendale, Maspeth, Middle Village and Ridgewood — suggested placing armed police officers in schools, an idea backed by the National Rifle Association after Newtown.

“I know as a parent with kids in school I would feel better,” Comaianni told the Queens Chronicle in January.

He proposed the idea at a CEC meeting in January and the body unanimously backed it. But the DOE has not expressed support for the idea.

Part of DOE’s security procedures in schools include the implementation of Building Response Teams — management teams tasked with responding to an emergency in schools and non-school DOE buildings.

PS 97 in Woodhaven was one of five city schools to take part in the BRT Pilot program last year. The school received intense training on how to respond to evacuation drills and lockdowns.

“This training definitely raised our awareness of the possible threat of an emergency and prepared us to react in a positive manner, maintaining a calm environment for the members of our school community,” said Ameila Joseph, PS 97’s parent coordinator. “Our staff, students, and parents and guardians were involved in many of the drills and are prepared to respond to an emergency.”

Joseph said the school won a Respect for All award as well for scoring a high response in the safety and respect category on the DOE’s Learning Environment Surveys.

Security concerns are also an issue for new schools being constructed in the city.

At the Feb. 12 Community Board 9 meeting, Education Committee Chairman Seth Welins said there was some concern over security at a new Ozone Park school under construction, specifically whether or not the building would have cameras.

The school, PS 316, is being built on the former site of St. Stanislaus Bishop & Martyr Catholic School at 90-07 101 Ave. and is expected to open in 2014.

DOE spokesman David Pena said security cameras are part of the project. According to the November 2012 amendment to the School Construction Authority’s 2010-2014 capital plan, there are 22 projects across Queens where Internet protocol surveillance cameras are being installed at a cost of $7.3 million.

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