East Williston to fence in North Side School for safety

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Todd Atkin, Nassau County Police Department Homeland Security school resource coordinator, right, and Officer Jesse Cooper, discuss benefits of a school perimeter fence during an East Williston board of education meeting. (Photo by Rebecca Klar)

Michelle Grosskopf said if she brought her 9-year-old daughter, a student at the North Side School, to the Board of Education meeting on school security she would’ve said “what is wrong with all of you – we’re children, protect us.”

The Wednesday night meeting was held to discuss plans to put a perimeter fence around the East Williston elementary school.

Board of education President Mark Kamberg said specifics on the design, placement and height of the fence have not yet been determined but the board will be moving ahead with plans for a perimeter fence based on recommendations by the Nassau County Department of Homeland Security.

“Thank God this district has not had a tragedy … we continue to react to the instances taking place, to be proactive for our children and our staff,” Kamberg said. “That is what we are trying to do here, we have to look outside of the glass bubble to what once was and is.”

Putting a fence around a school won’t keep a potentially dangerous invader out – but it can delay and deter them, according to Nassau County Police officials.

Two problem-oriented cops and Todd Atkin, Nassau County Police Department Homeland Security school resource coordinator, spoke to the room of about 40 on the potential benefits of a fence during the meeting.

Many parents in the room spoke out in favor of the fence, like Grosskopf who called the fence a “no-brainer,” but a handful of residents opposed the idea.

Some, like Rita Botensten, said the fence would take away from the aesthetic value of the school in the village.

Others, including Matt Cuomo, said the fence wouldn’t realistically keep anyone out in case of danger.

“I think we all can humbly admit that god forbid someone that wants to do tragic harm is going to find a way to do that tragic harm,” Kamberg said. “As we heard from officers … what a perimeter fences do is buys you some time.”

That time, even two minutes can potentially save 100 lives, Atkin said.

Seventy-nine percent of school shootings start and stop in eight minutes, Atkin said.

In just 44 seconds, 60 lives could be taken, Atkin said.

The ability to have a few extra minutes where school officials notice an intruder trying to climb a fence to begin a lockdown and call police, can be key in the case of danger, Atkin said.

The fence may be 6 to 8-feet to help with safety, but the district would work in conjunction with the East Williston village board based on village code.

A rendering of a fence shown by Nicolas Fusco, the director of facilities, would split one of the school’s fields to make the field partially open despite the fencing.

Kamberg noted that the rendering is just a potential design and final decisions and plans have not yet been made.

Even so, the field would be off limits during school hours as school property currently is during school hours.

The potential decision to split the field came as a compromise to address concerns the public had made at an October meeting that fencing off the school and fields would make the public feel closed off from school fields.

But even those who are opposed to the fence said if one is to be made it makes more sense to fence the entire perimeter. That way the field is not broken up if community members want to use it for football games on the weekends, and as a security measure it makes more sense to have the fence pushed back further from the school.

The fence is not the only security upgrade the school is making.

The 2018-2019 approved budget includes $500,000 for security upgrades. Other measures include upgrading surveillance, enhancing entry monitoring, and expanding security technology and physical infrastructure.

Al Testani, a parent who supports the fence, said he’d also like to see metal detectors included at the schools.

Kamberg said that the board is not opposed to metal detectors, but at this time is trying to work for the outside in.

Grosskopf, a member of the North Side Safety Committee, said she also supports metal the idea of metal detectors, but agrees that a fence is the place to start as a deterrent.

“I feel that if somebody drives by our school that even has an inking in their head of something crazy we look lackadaisical and, frankly, crazy,” Grosskopf said.

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