District 20 presents school safety plans

January 11, 2013 Denise Romano
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Only a handful of parents were present as District 20 Superintendent Karina Costantino outlined school safety plans and security measures at the Community Education Council meeting on January 9 at P.S. 104.

In the wake of the devastating mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, Costantino said she had met with Frank Jordan, the borough’s top school safety officer, to see what safety plans were already in place in city schools.

“We talked about what we can do better and what our next steps should be,” Costantino said. All schools across the city have specially trained school safety officers. In addition, inspectors make unexpected visits to high schools that have metal detectors and cameras to make sure that plans are in place.

“I am confident that proper procedures are followed, but we all know that we are as safe as our weakest link,” Costantino said, adding that District 20 is “very, very safe.”

In every school, the safety officer is the “first line of defense,” Costantino noted. Each is equipped with a radio that can signal first responders to any emergency who will show up at the location “in a matter of minutes.” This plan was designed by the Police Department, the Fire Department, Council of School Supervisors and Administrators and the United Federation of Teachers.

Also, all schools are required to have a safety plan in place, specific to the layout of the building, according to Costantino. These plans are approved and coordinated with police, she said.

Costantino said that schools, teachers and students are trained for hard and soft lockdowns. A soft lockdown is when there is no “identified, imminent danger” in the building. Administrative, building response and school safety agents will “mobilize at the designated command post for further instruction.”

A hard lockdown implies that there is ”imminent danger” and no one should be out in the halls. Everyone, including safety officers should take “proper lockdown action and await the arrival of first responders.”

Each school is required to have had at least eight fire drills by the beginning of December. They also regularly practice hard and soft lockdowns, evacuations and shelter-ins. In addition, there are neighborhood disaster and evacuation plans in place, said Costantino.

At the meeting, parents were able to make suggestions about safety specific to their school.

“Each school has a different culture and has to be handled accordingly,” the superintendent said.

Costantino is also meeting with the School Construction Authority to make sure that all locks in each building works properly.

“Doors shouldn’t be unlocked, purses should not be left on desks and keys should not be copied,” she said. “This way, we can all make sure that we have a safe environment for everyone.”

In addition, parents should file updated home contact cards and legal documents with the school.

“We have to make sure that we are proactive with school safety. We never want to be reactive,” Costantino concluded.

The next District 20 CEC meeting will be a town hall with Chancellor Dennis Walcott on Wednesday, February 13 at 7 p.m. The location is yet to be determined. For details, call 718-759-3921.

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