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Mar 6, 2018 1:22 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

East Hampton Schools Evaluate Security In Wake Of Parkland Shooting

Springs School Superintendent Debra Winter. KYRIL BROMLEY
Mar 6, 2018 2:56 PM

It’s been three weeks since 17 people, mostly teenagers, were shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Parents and students there have sparked a national cry for action by elected officials.

Locally, school administrators say they have taken measures to ensure the safety of kids and are open to discussing others.

One of the schools to take steps to strengthen security post-Parkland was the Montauk School, which has contracted with Blue Line Protection since February 26 to have a retired police officer patrol the halls as a security officer. According to Superintendent J. Philip Perna, hiring the officer was in the works during the school’s mid-winter break the week of February 19, only days after the Parkland massacre.

Mr. Perna would not say on Friday whether or not the officer is armed.

He noted that the School Board had been trying to persuade the East Hampton Town Police to dedicate an officer to the school, but that discussions with the police department kept falling through due to scheduling conflicts. So police gave Mr. Perna the contact information for Blue Line Protection.

“After the shooting in Florida, I said, ‘I’m not going to wait anymore,’” Mr. Perna said.

Meanwhile, the school has been budgeting $125,000 annually of its approximately $19 million budget for security. The school currently has security cameras, doors that lock from the inside, and a staff member at the front door who operates a buzzer to let people inside. In addition to the new security officer, Mr. Perna said school officials plan to look into improvements to the network of security cameras in the school.

Debra Winter, superintendent of Springs School, happened to be sitting in her office with retired Suffolk County Police Detective James Garcia when she spoke over the phone on Friday. It was the second time Mr. Garcia has visited Springs to tour the school and consult about additional security measures. Ms. Winter said that Mr. Garcia visited Springs in December to offer his opinions about the school’s security.

“In light of what happened, I wanted him to come back out again,” Ms. Winter said, referring to the Valentine’s Day shooting in Florida. “He’s doing this because he cares about my school and my kids.”

While Springs School currently also has a front-door attendant to buzz in visitors, doors that lock from inside and security cameras, Ms. Winter said she also ordered a license/ID reader last week to be installed at the front door.

With a $7,000 price tag paid through BOCES as a “purchased service,” the reader will scan visitors’ driver’s licenses or public IDs and indicate whether the visitor has had any criminal charges. The reader then prints out a picture of the visitor and stamps it so that it cannot be used again. A similar reader is used at East Hampton High School.

Ms. Winter said Springs School officials are looking into installing a security camera to better oversee the school grounds, as well as adding 16 more security cameras to the current set indoors. Along with the typical emergency drills the school staff and students participate in, she said school staff will participate in active shooter drills at night with local police officers to prepare them for the worst-case scenario.

While Springs does not have a security guard on staff, Ms. Winter said that hiring one is “a topic for conversation” with the School Board and that she hopes to make a recommendation by Monday, March 12, to hire a guard for this year. “At this juncture,” she said, she does not intend to have an armed guard.

School safety has been a topic at recent School Board meetings, both before and after the Parkland incident, and Ms. Winter said the board has shown great support for these ideas.

“Our next conversation has to be with our parents,” she said. “They have to cooperate. We have to ask for everybody’s help.”

Eleanor Tritt, superintendent at the Amagansett School, said on Monday that she and the School Board are looking into hiring a security guard for the 2018-19 school year to supplement ongoing safety drills, which are staged as many as 15 times each year. The Amagansett School’s estimated security budget of about $72,000 for next year of its almost $11 million overall budget will be used to pay the security guard.

Ms. Tritt said there are “feelings on both sides” among board members about whether or not to arm the security guard, so the board will be doing “strong analysis” to make a final decision. She said she and the board agreed that they would be adding the security guard at their most recent board meeting.

“At this time, there’s a feeling of understanding that this is something that should be taken seriously,” she said of student safety.

While some administrators may have been discussing security publicly, details might be more difficult to share for some others.

Rich Burns, superintendent of East Hampton School District, said that he and the School Board are “constantly” trying to find new ways to improve the safety and security of the students of John M. Marshall Elementary School, East Hampton Middle School and East Hampton High School.

Currently, each school has an armed school resource officer from East Hampton town or village police, and the school district contracts with a security company to have one security officer at both John Marshall and the middle school, plus two security officers at the high school, all of whom are unarmed. The school resource officers are paid as part of their police salary, while the contracted security officers are paid by the school district.

Mr. Burns was reluctant to divulge further specifics about the schools’ security protocols and potential improvements that could be made.

“You don’t want to reveal any weaknesses,” he said on Friday. “We have strengths and weaknesses, and I just don’t want to go down the road of saying, ‘This is what needs to be improved,’ because it kind of gives a blueprint to someone who might have malicious intent.”

While the schools of the East End are carefully evaluating their security procedures, they sense the urgency to take action.

“Everybody is fully aware of being as secure as possible in buildings,” Mr. Burns said. “Just because we’re in East Hampton doesn’t mean it can’t happen here.”

Referencing comments made by Springs School Principal Eric Casale, Ms. Winter said, “I think Eric Casale’s words are the best: Springs is not the small little school from the 1960s. It has grown tremendously—the environment has changed.”

Wainscott School Superintendent Deborah Haab could not be reached for comment this week.

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