Securing Our Safety in School


Frieda Belasco, Managing Editor

Students at HHS have noticed recently that the process for lockdown drills has changed. Now, instead of an announcement saying “all clear” to end the drill, a security team walks around the school, checking that each door is locked and the window shade is down before unlocking the classroom door. The protocol itself hasn’t changed, but the way that the building is drilling the protocol has undergone some clear shifts. Hillside has been doing this type of key-out since last year since their building is smaller, but the middle school and high school complex was not able to because the building is so big and complicated. For the past couple of years, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the district practiced modified lockdown drills, only returning to normal procedures this school year.

But what is the actual protocol for lockdowns in the first place? In an emergency situation, not that much would differ from how drills are practiced now. “The biggest difference between a drill and a real lockdown situation is who is opening the door and letting you know the lockdown is over. In a real lockdown situation, it will always be an emergency responder who is getting into your classroom using a key. During a drill, it may be a staff member or a member of the Hastings Police Department. Regardless, a key will always be used when someone authorized is entering your classroom,” explained Michelle Monahan, the Safety and Security Coordinator for the district. Monahan consults with the district representing Altaris, a consulting group used by many schools in Westchester to help schools improve their security practices. 

One of the many ways in which Altaris works with the district to constantly improve security measures is by training staff to be “vigilant and aware of what’s going on. We want staff to feel empowered in not only recognizing something of concern, but also bringing it forward without feeling like they’re being dramatic or bringing up something that is unimportant,” Monahan said. Teachers are trained to recognize emergencies and properly deal with them. 

Another vital way in which everyone in school is kept safe is by the use of security guards, posted at the main entrances of the middle and high school. “The role of the security guards is to manage who is coming in or out of the building,” said Maureen Caraballo, the district Treasurer. Caraballo also coordinates security consultants for the district and confirms that the district is in compliance with all security regulations. The security guards monitor the doors and screen visitors entering the building. As Caraballo explained, “they’re here to assist us in ensuring that the building is safe and secure, and that people who are not supposed to be in the building at any given time are not in the building.” The security guards aid the district in security protocols, monitoring cameras for suspicious people and threats. They also help if there’s a safety concern or if someone gets hurt. The security guards are “here to [be] another set of eyes,” Caraballo said.

The district is constantly looking for new ways to improve security in schools. Usually when a change is made, it’s because the change is now a “best practice,” as the recommended ways to secure a school are constantly changing. Unfortunately, tragedies sometimes aid the district in deciding what a “best practice” is, learning from current events to determine works and what does not  when it comes to security. According to Caraballo, the district is constantly reevaluating how they handle security, thinking about “how to make security better and how to make sure everyone feels safe.”