Investigation shows security in local schools varies

By Matt Porter

April 9, 2013 Updated Apr 9, 2013 at 7:55 PM EDT

Windsor, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Levels of school security vary in the Southern Tier depending on the district, an Action News investigation finds.

Some districts employ high-tech measures, like computerized card readers and classroom doors that lock automatically. Others use a combination of cameras, intercom systems and common sense.

Action News asked each district in Broome-Tioga BOCES about their security measures. Some were willing to share that information, which is a matter of public record, according to New York state law.

However, not all districts provided complete answers; one went a step further.

The Owego Apalachin Central School District has appealed a Freedom of Information Law request, and declined to share any of its security information. As of this week, it remains the only school system of the 16 in the district to do so. In its appeal, Owego Apalachin said providing the information would put students and teachers at risk.

State law places the burden of proof on public agencies -- in this case Owego Apalachin schools.

Officials from Broome-Tioga BOCES declined to be interviewed because they said the issue of security is in the hands of individual districts. But they did not find "the differences in how each district is addressing this issue to be either significant or a concern."

"I am very confident that each of our schools is addressing the safety of their students and staff and are doing all that they can do to ensure the security of everyone in their school buildings," said Broome-Tioga BOCES Superintendent Dr. Allen Buyck in a written statement.

Most classroom doors can't be locked from the inside

The investigation found 82 percent of BOCES schools have locking exterior doors and required visitors to check in with staff.

Of those surveyed, 75 percent reported using a buzzed-entry that requires notification from an employee inside the respective building.

Fewer schools -- 69 percent -- reported using hall monitors for security.

Less than half -- 44 percent -- said they have classrooms that can be locked from the inside.

Not one school uses hired security, although several districts said they were discussing bringing back police from their communities.

The Windsor Central School District employs some of the most advanced techniques in the Broome-Tioga BOCES districts when it comes to security.

Windsor superintendent: Investment in security is investment in education

Windsor Superintendent Jason Andrews said improvements were made in 2007 to make their buildings more secure. Additional measures were taken in 2011 for major capital projects paid for mostly by the state.

"A number of years ago we really made safety and security a key part of our capital improvements," Andrews said. "We always take safety and security in mind when we're doing that."

Of the 16 districts surveyed, half reported they can seal classrooms from the inside.

Windsor does, and has the ability to seal classrooms and most interior doors electronically.

"You don't really need to swipe it and it just reads the card," Andrews said, "And that releases the lock mechanism and then the door can be opened."

He said it's not just about cameras and other high-tech security. Andrews said working with parents, teachers and law enforcement on security plans are crucial.

"Safety isn't about hardware, I think it helps," he said, "But the safety is much more about the relationships we are building with our students, with our community."

In Windsor, they've decided investing in security is an investment in education.

"If we don't do it in a safe and secure environment," Andrews said, "Then those other priorities really can't happen."

Expert: State laws 'fail our children'

Police officer Scott Bollinger helped start Armoured One with three others, two of them also in law enforcement.

The company provides security audits for school districts and a special laminate to make windows more resistant to breaking.

He said not every school is as proactive as Windsor, but New York state law doesn't require them to be.

"Basically they don't give much more guidance or any structure to the plan," Bollinger said. "Other than that, you should have a plan."

The New York SAVE Act provides a detailed layout for how security and safety plans should be designed in schools.

But the law ultimately leaves all final decisions in the hand of each school district.

"We need to be doing more," Bollinger said. "We are failing our children. It's failing, it's not working. Let's do something different."

The 15-year SWAT team veteran said current state guidelines aren't effective for the minutes between when an attack begins and when police arrive.

For example, current policy doesn't allow teachers to block doors -- because of possible fire code violations -- even if there was a shooter on the other side.

"Looking into the policies and procedures of New York right now, that's a violation of fire code," Bollinger said. "We thought it really doesn't apply here because somebody's killing people in the hallway."

Although the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary provided the impetus behind the Action News investigation, most -- if not all -- local security measures were employed years before Adam Lanza shot his way into the Newtown, Conn. school and killed 26 people, including 20 children.

Sandy Hook used exterior doors that were locked electronically. Lanza also was able to shoot his way inside.

School officials and security experts say the debate about improved school security should continue.