The work to make PW schools safer, begun last spring in the aftermath of several tragedies throughout the nation, is progressing well, according to the school safety subcommittee, headed by Eric Vonderhorst, director of Facilities and Operations. In fact, many of the recommendations, like having new staff monitor visitors, were swiftly implemented; others are near completion or will be actively pursued, reports the subcommittee.
The addition of paraprofessionals dedicated to overseeing the arrival and departure of visitors in each of the four elementary schools and Weber Middle School is working smoothly, said Mr. Vonderhorst who continually monitors school security systems. According to reports, the sign-in procedure is effective and is being followed regularly. Moreover, with one exception, all the cameras, monitors, and intercom systems, recommended by the Task Force for school entrances, is in place in the four elementary schools. One school door must be changed to accommodate the camera; then it, too, will be completely outfitted for monitoring.
The subcommittee was also happy to report that the fire safety plan, which will serve the district should there be any type of emergency, has been completed. It includes a floor plan of each level of every school building, as well as important details regarding the locations of utilities, hazardous materials, fire hydrants, and other pertinent information. The plan will be sent to each school building for final corrections, and then distributed to the fire chief, the PW and Nassau County Police, and others. The subcommittee had previously recommended the addition of alarm systems in those school buildings which do not already possess them and upgrades for those that do. Funding for this safety measure is already in the budget, and the work is expected to begin in July. The subcommittee anticipates having alarm systems with zoned areas, so that unused sections of buildings can remain alarmed while other areas are in use, even during the school day.
Students, families, teachers, and the community overall can also feel more secure, as Mr. Vonderhorst's staff -- operations and maintenance employees -- have all been issued blue photo identification cards; substitutes have the same cards in yellow. This will enhance the identification of staff on school grounds. "An effort is being made to have them all wear them," Mr. Vonderhorst said. They also have been issued uniforms.
Other steps to enhance security are planned, but will take some additional time. On the schedule for July, 2001, is a complete upgrade of the telecommunications system; the cost has already been incorporated into the budget. The system will include telephones and public address systems throughout all areas of all buildings. Currently, there are numerous classrooms in Weber and Schreiber for which there are no means of outside communication access; additionally, there are so-called "dead zones," in which neither incoming nor outgoing access exists. This is not the case with the elementary schools; they are already equipped with the means of two-way communication. While the recommended telecommunication system is costly, it was explained that we can expect a rebate of approximately 30 percent from the FCC, if the work is done in the 2000-2001 school year. But the delay in installing stronger communications systems in the schools caused some consternation. "Would you be comfortable sending your child to a house without a telephone?" asked Port parent/task force member Maxine Schwartz. As a result, some interim solutions are being examined. Others pointed out that some improvements in communications have already been completed. For example, the Manorhaven school public address system was upgraded, and hand-held radios were added.
Also to be completed shortly is the emergency management plan. When finished, it will be presented to the school board for adoption; thereafter, one copy will be kept in each principal's office. The head custodians will also receive a copy, as will the nurses' offices. The police audit -- which included examining the buildings' exteriors, such as shrubs and signs -- is also expected to be completed in the near future. One subcommittee member also reiterated the need for improvements in the area of the Monfort lot, especially improved lighting and the addition of an emergency phone. This, too, will be addressed in the next few months.