Manhasset schools consider stricter visitor policy

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The Manhasset Board of Education discussed the new school visitor policy it has been developing Thursday evening at Shelter Rock Elementary School. (Photo by Teri West)

The Manhasset School District has dedicated nearly $400,000 over the past year to reinforcing security on its campuses by placing new vestibules at school entrances, and two additional vestibules will be on the capital reserve ballot.

Now, the Board of Education is preparing to take on security through a change that would cost little but affect the routines of many: updating the district’s visitor policy.

From restricting opportunities for parents to drop off items to managing how visitors can access the building for meetings, the proposed policy would alter the way those who do not study or teach at the schools can enter them.

It is a change that would take some getting used to but eventually become routine – all to reinforce the safety of the community, said Trustee Patricia Aitken at a board meeting last Thursday at which parents, teachers, principals and a county police officer discussed the policy that the Board of Education has drafted.

“We’re not an island here. Everybody else is really doing the same kind of thing, unfortunately,” she said. “This is the kind of thing that has to be done in today’s world.”

Based on the current draft, the policy would require parents and community members who want to meet with a teacher to plan the meeting in advance so that they could be added to a list provided to the campus security guards.

It would also create an hour-and-a-half-long window in the morning for parents to drop off items for their children at school that would then be placed in a box at security. Manhasset Secondary School would have both a morning drop-off period from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. and an afternoon window from 2 p.m. to 2:45 p.m. Food drop-offs would be prohibited.

“During the lunch periods at the secondary school last month when we did the count there were over 120, I believe, drop offs [per day] of lunches and coffees and whatever else,” Superintendent Vincent Butera said.

The goal behind the revised policy is to ensure that everyone in the building is authorized and that there is not an over-saturation of people entering the campus who are not students or teachers, he said.

The school board has not yet set a date when it will vote on the policy.

Because of incidents such as the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., last year, the Nassau County Police Department has been working with schools to hold lockdown drills. Officers such as Joe Oginski, who attended last week’s meeting, have routinely met with administrators to help schools navigate how to implement and enhance preventative safety measures.

“From a lot of the prior incidents that have occurred across the country, a lot of it has to do with the initial entry into a perimeter,” Oginski said. “If you look at the Parkland shooting that happened, it was a student that wasn’t supposed to be on the property, a student that then has the ability to sort of get through, and stopping that before that happens is a really important thing.”

The security vestibules the district has been installing include ballistic-rated glass doors and a visitor check-in booth.

After the school shooting in Sandy Hook in 2012, the school district added cameras in school buildings that administrators and county police can monitor as well as exterior strobe lights.

No parents or teachers in last Thursday’s audience of about 20 people spoke in opposition to the proposed new policy.

Student member of the board Cara Kurkjian, a senior, asked whether it would affect her as a college student should she want to visit her former teachers.

The high school will likely set up a procedure for students to visit when they are back in town on break, said Principal Dean Schlanger.

“We’re definitely going to do something, but students just showing up and walking around the building? No,” he said.

Manhasset Secondary School would maintain its open campus policy, which allows juniors and seniors to leave campus during their lunch period.

Manhasset High School librarian Edward Vasta commended the board for choosing to create and put forward a policy that he believes will get pushback from many parents. As someone who works in the school every day, a stricter visitor policy would make him feel safer, and parents should be grateful that their children would be learning in more secure buildings, he said.

“I do feel safer, board,” he said. “And your teachers feel safer protecting this community’s children.”

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