Questions were asked, hugs were exchanged and emotions ran high at an informal Q&A session a Pleasantville High School last Tuesday evening.
About two dozen parents, mostly of Bedford Road School-aged students, sat down with school administrators and the board of education to ask tough questions in the wake of the tragic Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, CT.
Superintendent Mary Fox-Alter outlined the school's former and updated security measures and protocol, noting security cameras, locked doors and lockdown and lockout procedures as part of the district's precautions.
"In the State of New York, we are required to have a district safety team," she told parents. "That came out of the events of Columbine and out of 9/11. And every school district is required by law to have a comprehensive district safety plan."
The plan, Fox-Alter explained, "is a confidential document" that cannot be shared with the public due to its contents including safety protocol and evacuation plans and sites.
Recent changes to safety procedures in the district including locking and monitoring the main doors at Bedford Road School and Pleasantville Middle School until remote access buzzer systems are installed. At the high school, all doors but the gymnasium and main entrance will remain locked.
Students are also being reminded not to let anyone into the building.
These measures, Fox-Alter reiterated, are not necessarily changes, but a result of the "hyperfocus" on safety following the Newtown shooting.
This "hyperfocus" was exemplified when the board of education members were present at the schools to greet students the Monday after the shooting.
Vice President Shane McGaffey said someone called the police and reported him as a "suspicious person" that day.
"We are a community," he said. "If you see something, say something."
Parents asked questions ranging from whether barred windows could be installed to how quickly police respond to the schools.
"Within seconds," Fox-Alter said in reply to the last inquiry.
Pleasantville Mayor Peter Scherer, who was also present at the community meting, noted, however, that in the case of a possible shooting, more than just village police would be called to the scene.
"Obviously the cops can get here very, very fast," he noted. "But there is a mutual aid program with Mount Pleasant...county police. The county police have a SWAT team."
Another parent inquired about the schools' protocol for when children are outside the classroom—at recess, for example.
BRS Principal Peggy Galotti responded, "We do have a plan for recess."
She later said that some of the younger students in the district have started noticing that the doors are being locked more vigilantly.
"I don't want them to live in fear," she stated.
Taking part in emergency procedure drills has been a practice all three schools have taken part in, Fox-Alter said.
"At the middle school, we do tell the children it's a drill," said Principal Vivian Ossowski. "The children know if it's a drill to be safe and away from the windows and doors."
During a practice drill at the high school, 700 people were evacuated within three minutes, according to Pleasantville High School Principal Dawn Bartz.
While some parents pushed for district officials to look into everything from guns or tasers for security guards to installing bulletproof doors, Fox-Alter noted, "I don't want this to take us hostage as well."
Today and tomorrow, Fox-Alter said in a district-wide email alert Wednesday, "the Pleasantville Police Department will be in our schools to conduct practice movements. As in the past, we welcome our police into our schools to perform practice exercises."
To sign up for the district's emergency K-12 Alerts, visit www.pleasantvilleschools.com.