Safety Measures Undergoing Review in Local Schools

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by Robert Kimmel

Sleepy Hollow High School/Middle School campus. — Photo Credit: Bob Kimmel
Sleepy Hollow High School/Middle School campus.
— Photo Credit: Bob Kimmel

Safety concerns at local schools have heightened in the aftermath of the wave of bomb threats targeted at Jewish Community Centers and schools across the country, including the JCC in Tarrytown. While those threats have proven to be hoaxes, authorities say such acts can’t be ignored.

Both the Tarrytown and Irvington school districts have safety committees that regularly review plans established to deal with a variety of emergency situations.

The need for such measures appeared to deepen last month when a bomb threat was found scribbled on the wall of a girl’s bathroom at the Edgemont High School in Greenburgh. The Westchester County Bomb Squad and the Greenburgh Police Deputy Special Operations Unit responded, arriving on the scene quickly, according to Police Chief Chris McNerney.

While a bomb search was made — no bomb was found – students were relocated in accord with a safety protocol. “While we are not ruling anything out, the likelihood is that this was a student,” McNerney said. “We have had incidents like this in other schools, and some of the motivation behind it is as trivial as students taking a test and they want to get out of the test. We want to assure the public that we are prepared to handle it. We train with the
county, and involve the schools for
similar types of events.”

Greenburgh Supervisor Paul Feiner said he was very satisfied with the response by the town’s police, adding that it is, “very well prepared, equipped and trained to handle threats of this nature.”

Sleepy Hollow High School and Middle School followed a safety procedure for an emergency of a different nature early last month. Both schools went into a lock-in when alerted by police that two armed robbers of a Verizon Store on Broadway were on the loose. “They did not know where the perpetrators were so we had a lock-in for a little while, and it was very effective,” stated Mimi Godwin, President of the Tarrytown School District’s Board of Education.

Godwin noted that, “One of our board goals this year is to review and go over…and update our safety measures, from lock-ins, lock-outs, evacuation drills, everything we have and we are considering new protocols.” Godwin, who is a member of the Board’s Safety Committee, said that, “These are things that you look at constantly. We have security in all of our buildings, cameras, and the like; everything is up-to-date.”

A posting on the school district’s website from its Superintendent, Christopher
Borsari stated, “As required by New York State Law, we conduct numerous emergency
preparedness drills throughout the year to ensure that our staff and students know what to do in the event of an emergency.”

Borsari’s posting went on to note that, “We use these drills as an opportunity to teach our students, staff, and parents about our emergency procedures as well as an opportunity to observe and acquire critical feedback with respect to the effectiveness of our plans. To this end we collaborate with the police departments and first responders in both the Village of Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow on the execution and review of our drill.”

Irvington’s schools have “a comprehensive district-wide emergency plan,” according to  Dr. Kristopher Harrison, the district’s superintendent. He described the plan as having “specific actions spelled out for a variety of different scenarios at each school level. They are supplemented by school plans that are modified in regard to individual school campuses as well as the individual student population.”

“We review our plans annually, and throughout the course of the school year,” Harrison explained. “We have a safety committee that meets on a teachers’ level and reviews all safety related issues, and of course, if there is anything that happens locally or globally that makes us rethink our plan, we are very flexible in our approach that makes sure that our schools and our children are as safe as possible.”

Bomb threats at schools throughout the country have been increasing rapidly over the past five years.  The Educator’s School Safety Network is a national non-profit that collects data and provides training to handle bomb threats and various school safety concerns. It states that, “In the 2015-2016 school year U.S. schools experienced 1,267 bomb threats, an increase of 106 percent compared to that same time period in 2012-2013.” The trend apparently is continuing in the 2016-17 school year. While most threats turn out to be hoaxes, they cause anxiety, parental alarm, loss of police resources and classroom time.

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