An active shooter drill at Walter Panas High School in Cortlandt. Photo Credit: Provided/Westchester County Police
Frank Corona, director of security at Mamaroneck Union Free School District. Photo Credit: Provided
Bedford Police holding an active shooter drill. Photo Credit: Contributed

Westchester Schools Prepare To Protect Children When Classes Resume

Reading, writing, criminal background checks. Opening school day priorities have shifted due to the nationwide increase in mass shootings.

Many Westchester schools are now hiring county or local police to protect children and teachers. Other school districts turn to private security firms, in-house guards or a mix of public and private forces.

In addition to surveillance cameras, some school districts have installed security scanners to run background criminal checks on all visitors. 

"Strengthening security at all of our schools has been a priority for us over the past several years," said Debbie Manetta, spokeswoman for the Mamaroneck Union Free School District. "We have implemented many security upgrades, including, among other things, additional cameras/surveillance, the hiring of a security firm that employs security personnel at each of our schools and then. . . the hiring of a new districtwide director of security."

Mamaroneck, Rye City School District and White Plains Public Schools, among others, will use database systems to check the backgrounds of all visitors.

"While we have required all visitors to present photo IDs in the past, we will be utilizing a new BadgePass data system this year,'' Manetta said.

White Plains Schools Superintendent Joseph L. Ricca said his district also will require identification from all visitors that will be scanned and crosschecked against offender databases. Each visitor wears a name-tag with their photo on it. 

"We have been working on security for our fourth year in earnest,'' Ricca said. "This is the first year we'll have security folks at our elementary schools. A lot that we've done you don't even see" -- including procedures and planning for first responders and law enforcement. 

The city schools partner with the White Plains Department of Public Safety to have two School Resource Officers (SROs) used throughout the district. The two uniformed police officers are in addition to unarmed security guards. 

A total of nine Westchester County Police officers serve as SROs in four school districts. Each of those districts has contracted with Westchester County for the department to provide the service.

Somers School District has four county officers, one assigned to each district school building: Somers High School, Somers Middle School, Somers Intermediate School and Primrose Elementary School.

Lakeland School District has three county officers, assigned at each district school in the town of Cortlandt: Walter Panas High School, Van Cortlandt Elementary School and Lincoln Titus Elementary. The other Lakeland schools are in the town of Yorktown and Yorktown Police provide the SROs there. 

Hendrick Hudson School District also has one county police officer assigned at Hendrick Hudson High School.

North Salem School District has one one county police officer assigned as an SRO at North Salem High School and Middle School.

North Salem Schools also have utilized an ID process for at least five years. All visitors have their license scanned and are given a photo ID to wear inside school, and are required to return it when they leave school grounds.

Chappaqua Central School District is among the most recent to contract with local police. The school district and New Castle Police Department have agreed to having patrol officers serve as SROs. Specifics of the program are being finalized.

On Wednesday, Aug. 28, the Mamaroneck School District announced that Frank Corona has begun his tenure as director of security. Corona comes from the Dobbs Ferry School District where he worked in security for seven years; prior to that, Corona served as criminal investigator for the Westchester County District Attorney's Office from 2001-2010 and as police officer, detective and sergeant for the Village of Sleepy Hollow Police Department from 1990-2001.

Corona will supervise staff members affiliated with Summit Security -- a private firm that Mamaroneck began contracting with last school year -- at each of its six schools and work closely with local law enforcement. 

"Frank has a proven record of success in security management, staff supervision and administration. He will lead our effort to strengthen school safety and serve as an important liaison with local law enforcement," Superintendent of Schools Robert I. Shaps said.

Rye City School District employs security personnel at each of its buildings from a company called NJB Security Services. RCSD hired a full-time director of security last year. John Hawkins is a former police officer and a contractor from the district's security company, Altaris. His full title is coordinator of Security, Safety and Emergency Preparedness.

From some of the money approved in a June bond issue, Rye plans to build secure, vestibule-style entrances at each of its five buildings. The school district also received a state security technology grant award this past spring. The money is being used to install a new system of security cameras throughout the five school buildings. 

In addition, RCSD is installing a new visitor management system that will require visitors to the five schools to present a government-issued ID prior to entrance. Visitors will receive a temporary badge to wear while on school grounds once they have passed a brief background check.

New Rochelle Board of Education, meanwhile, recently voted against using armed police officers for school security.