By Rich Place
From school security enhancements already completed by the Springville-Griffith Institute Central School District to technology that could continue to improve it, the SGI School Board on Tuesday heard a presentation from law enforcement officers on the topic.
About two dozen community members joined the school board in listening to Tony Olivo, director of investigative services at Corporate Screening and Investigative (CSI) Group; Sgt. Thomas Kelly of New York State Police Emergency Management; and Deputy Frank Simmeth, a school resource officer from the Erie County Sheriff’s Office who serves the district.
“I felt it was important that we reach out to everyone within our school community because school safety is not something any one of us can do alone,” said Superintendent Kimberly Moritz. “It truly takes every member of our school community in making good decisions in the event — God forbid — of an emergency like that at Springville-Griffith Institute. I hate to have a discussion about a school shooting, but I don’t know how we don’t.”
The presentation — which lasted over an hour and a half — included information on some ways technology can further improve school security, what the district has done thus far and eventually turned into a dialogue with community members.
Olivo and his team performed a security audit for the school district about a year ago, Moritz said, and helped discover ways the school could immediately improve its security. For example, all staff are now required to wear identification at all times, all doors must be locked and visitors are asked for identification upon entering, she said.
Olivo said the CSI Group has done these security assessments for about 40 school districts across the state and consists of covert observation, sending people undercover into schools and reviewing policies and procedures.
“The main thing I would do? Lock the door,” he said when asked about the most cost-effective ways to improve security. “That’s the cheapest solution I can give you — lock the doors, lock the classroom doors, wear your ID cards and don’t let the wrong people into the building. That’s cheap — it’s free.”
Olivo also presented to the board a program CSI Group has worked with a French security team on that not only has facial recognition technology but also recognition of weapons. In video demonstrations, the board watched as cameras were able to identify a weapon in someone’s hand and immediately send the image to authorities. The same premise works with faces, which can be put into a database and alert authorities if an unwanted individual is on school property.
When asked about a cost, Olivo said it’s roughly $52 per student per year, or roughly $100,000 for a district the size of Springville.
Moritz said part of the reason to have the conversation was to see the direction the board wants to go on school security — a topic that is being handled differently by districts all over the area, she said.
“What you’ll see in the future is there are extra funds in the capital project because the bids were so favorable and there is also SMART Schools bond money — and our administrative team has heard me say that our number one priority with those funds is to take care of the safety and security of our students,” Moritz said.
Olivo credited the Springville school district with its proactive approach to school security and said the IP surveillance and security administrator at the district, a position held by Norm Johnson, is the only such position in any district he works with.
“You’re very fortunate that you have a forward thinking team here,” Olivo said. “Norm is the only person I’ve ever run into in any of the school districts with a position like this. I wish every school district would do this: have somebody who owns the security and technology of the school district.”
A portion of the conversation on Tuesday shifted to the school resource officer and his role in the district. Currently, Springville splits Simmeth’s time with North Collins Central School.
Kelly pointed out the Springville school district is fortunate to have an abundance of police in the immediate vicinity — from State Police barracks in Collins and Boston to the Erie County Sheriff’s Office substation and village police in Springville. The need and effectiveness of school resource officers was also addressed during the meeting.
“Whenever we have a presentation, my first recommendation is an SRO in every school building,” said Kelly. “But it always comes down to money.”
Senator Patrick Gallivan recently introduced legislation that would create funding opportunities for school districts to provide resource officers, as well as adjust earning limitations and peace officer status for retired officers.
“The value of what they bring, you can’t put a dollar amount on it,” Olivo said of school resource officers. He later added, “they are building a relationship that will foster these children to feel comfortable coming forward when they hear something or they don’t feel right about something and those type of things.”
The psychological effects of lockdown drills was also discussed, and it was concluded that emphasizing such a procedure is a drill would help with anxiety that a drill could cause.
“It’s not that we want the kids or the staff not to take it serious,” Kelly said. “We want them to take it serious and do it right. But when there is an actual lockdown, all they are going to hear is ‘lockdown, lockdown, lockdown’ and that sense of urgency is going to be that much higher of a threshold.”
Allison Duwe, school board president, thanked officials for providing information on security and technology but also emphasized the every day well-being of the district’s students.
“… How are we ensuring we are creating a community where hopefully this would never happen?” she asked. “I am heartened by some of the work that has been happening in our schools around saying ‘does every kid in our schools feel connected to?’”
Toward the end of the presentation, which was held on the same day of a school shooting at Great Mills High School in Maryland, Moritz said she hopes the district can bring the information shared at the meeting to its students.
“Do you feel this conversation has gotten a little bit easier as we’ve moved along tonight?” she asked those community members in attendance. “I was super uncomfortable when this started. I think the fact we are talking about this very hard subject is something we need to do with our students also so that they can feel a little more comfortable and know OK this is what I need to be thinking about, this is what I need to do.”