Class is back in session in most Capital Region school districts, and some students are returning to find upgraded security measures.
One of the biggest changes is in the Broadalbin-Perth school district, where students will see more than the usual number of cops strolling down their school hallways this year, buzzers at the doors and security cameras all around.
Over the summer, district officials signed contracts with the Broadalbin Village Police Department and the Fulton County Sheriff’s Department to send a few officers over on a random basis for roughly an hour a day.
“We’ve had police in to do a few random searches in the past,” said district spokeswoman Michele Kelley. “This is more consistent.”
The idea, she said, is twofold: Students will get used to police officers being around and know them as a safe and friendly presence, and those outside who might pose a threat will think twice about coming inside any of the four school buildings.
The law enforcement presence is just one part of a larger security upgrade undertaken after the violence at Sandy Hook in Connecticut.
“We had a forum in January,” Kelley said. “A hundred parents showed up. They were pretty freaked out.”
Parents came with all manner of suggestions. A few wanted all the exterior first-floor windows bricked over. Others wanted full-time armed guards patrolling hallways.
“But we had to find a balance between safety and keeping our school a warm and welcoming place for students,” Kelley said.
The administration weighed parent suggestions against cost and other factors and installed their compromise over the summer.
Buzz-in systems were installed at the major entrances, along with security cameras fed into the main office.
According to New York State United Teachers spokesman Matt Smith, those security systems, while already present in many schools, were installed in many more after the Newtown, Conn., shootings.
“A lot of districts across the state improved security after that,” he said, listing cameras, door buzzer and key-card entry systems among the most popular purchases.
Even the Scotia-Glenville Central School District, which had installed numerous security cameras years ago, added dozens more over the summer.
“We have security cameras all over the place,” said Scotia-Glenville spokesman Robert Hanlon. “Most angles, we can see what’s going on.”
His district is also looking into a buzz-in system. Currently, Scotia-Glenville buildings still operate on the old sign-in system. People walk in the main doors, are greeted by a staff member behind a desk and are asked to sign in.
“Next year visitors will probably have to be buzzed in by someone in the main office,” he said, adding that his district is also looking into ways of involving law enforcement.
Unlike the actions of Broadalbin-Perth, Hanlon said the S-G security projects weren’t prompted by parental compaint — it’s more an effort to keep up with the times.
“A lot of rural schools are following urban schools with tighter security,” he said. “We’re all going that direction.”
The Amsterdam School District, for example, has a buzz-in system.
Schenectady city schools have long had cameras and buzz-in systems in most buildings. After Sandy Hook, the district installed one in the high school. By the end of the year, spokeswoman Karen Corona said, they’ll have one at Mount Pleasant, the last district school with the old-fashioned sign-in and visitor name tag system.
Even the Middleburgh Central School District in rural Schoharie County has a buzz-in system.
“It’s pretty common,” Hanlon said.
As his district looks to join the many others with modern security, Hanlon isn’t sure what he thinks of the idea.
“It sort of erodes the innocence,” he said. “We could make schools totally safe. We could put up barbed wire and hire armed guards, but is that a world we want to live in?”
As students flooded Broadalbin-Perth hallways Thursday, Kelley said parents were pleased with the new security effort.
“We’ve been getting all sorts of positive feedback over Facebook,” she said.
It’s a large relief, especially given the investment.
The new entry system alone cost $56,500. Security cameras run as high as $2,000 apiece and the district hopes to install a total of 100 over the coming school year. Kelley said they’ll have to weigh buying cameras against fixing some problems with the roof, as there isn’t money to do both.
The projects are partially covered by state aid.
Police protection was the cheapest part of the new security system, though. District business manager Marco Zumbolo said contract costs were negligible.