Last Tuesday night at a Community Education Council (CEC) District 24 meeting in Glendale, parents criticized a Department of Education (DOE) official who coordinates security protocols for area schools.
The CEC proposed a series of policy recommendations, including keeping all school entrance doors locked from the inside, additional training for school safety agents, placing armed police officers at each school building, and installing camera surveillance and buzzer systems.
When asked where the DOE stood on the resolution, Maurice Lindsey, borough safety officer for the Office of Safety and Youth Development, responded that he couldn’t speak on the recommendations.
“All that information will be turned in to the hierarchy in the Department of Education,” he said. “It will be reviewed by them.”
Dmytro Fedkowskyj, co-president of the CEC, asked why schools are simply not allowed to lock their doors to prevent someone dangerous from entering. Lindsey said he couldn’t respond.
“The response has to come from the central office,” he said.
After he dodged more security-related questions, parents in the auditorium at PS/IS 119 were fed up. Some began screaming at Lindsey.
“No disrespect, but why is he here? He can’t answer one question,” said Mariann Miller. “Mr. Lindsey has no idea what he’s saying.”
Sergeant Reiman from the 104th Precinct was also brought in to answer parents’ questions, but did little to assuage their concerns.
Miller said the two men “haven’t a clue what’s going to work” to prevent a shooter from entering local schools.
“We’ll have another Parkland if nothing is done,” she said.
Lindsey explained that his role is to support schools and principals when it comes to safety. He trains each building’s response team on protocols for different scenarios.
If there is a threat outside of the building, the school goes into “shelter mode,” Lindsey said. School officials secure the exit doors to prevent anyone from coming inside. They also don’t let anyone leave the building.
If the threat is the building itself, such as a fire, students and staff members leave the building. Schools are supposed to conduct these drills eight times a year.
Finally, threats inside the building are assessed as either low-level or high-level risks. If the threat is deemed low-level, the school goes into “soft lockdown,” where students remain in the classrooms, the lights go out and teachers secure the doors. An administrator may patrol the hallway to figure out the situation.
In a high-level security threat, schools then go into a hard lockdown, where everyone, including school safety agents, custodians and staff, remain behind locked doors. According to Lindsey, the main entrance door remains open so first responders can come in and address the threat.
Despite the current procedures, parents were not satisfied. Lucy Accardo, CEC 24’s co-president who has four children in district schools, said the CEC has been asking for a buzzer system, locked doors and panic buttons since the tragedy in Sandy Hook five years ago.
But after writing to DOE, Accardo said the department responded that they did not believe those were appropriate safety measures.
“The school safety agents do an excellent job, but they have an open door right right in front of their desk. That puts them in harm’s way,” Accardo said. “They need protection, they need an armed officer, they need to lock the doors.
“We have to keep pushing,” she added. “We’re not going to stop until we make change happen.”
Other parents chimed in as well. Susanna Campo, a parent at PS/IS 128, said there are armed guards at institutions like banks, so there should be officers at schools, too. Given how much the world has changed, schools have to adapt as well.
“How many more tragedies need to occur before we learn our lesson?” she asked. “My children asked me, ‘will this happen to me?’ They don’t feel safe because they are not safe.”
Jennifer Alivar, a parent at PS/IS 102 in Elmhurst, requested more safety agents at her school. There is only one agent for 1,300 students, she said.
The parents found a supporter in Councilman Robert Holden, who said installing a camera with a buzzer is a simple solution that “shouldn’t be that expensive.” He also supports hiring more officers, either on-duty or retired, to guard schools.
“I think that’s doable for the safety of our children,” Holden said. “No system is foolproof, but we need to protect our kids to give our kids a fighting chance.”
In a statement, DOE spokeswoman Miranda Barbot said borough safety directors play a critical part in their safety support structure, ensuring school buildings are safe and staff are trained on procedures.
"We work closely with the NYPD to develop protocols that keep all students and staff safe in school," Barbot said.