Schools Consider MHS Security & Student Codes of Conduct

by Melany Gray

(February 6, 2008) At its study session on February 5, the Mamaroneck School Board took a break from capital plans and field work that have dominated recent meetings. (See: School Board Mulls Multi-Million Dollar Capital Plan and Schools Favor Moving Ahead with Turf Fields and Lights.) Before turning to the rest of its agenda, however, the board formally voted to initiate the environmental review process required if it goes forward with turf fields proposed for Mamaroneck High School and Central School.

Board President Amy Levere explained that “none of this commits us to anything, but this filing will not slow us down if we decide to move forward.”

MHS Safety and Security: Cameras & More Personnel?

The board then turned its attention to a report from the MHS safety and security committee. This group was formed following related conversations across the district last spring. One proposal, later dropped, was to install a safety resource officer (SRO) at MHS. (See: Police Officer for High School on Hold.) Dr. Mark Orfinger, MHS principal, explained that the committee was one of many groups focused on establishing a culture of student accountability and strengthening programs for at-risk students.

Assistant Principal Steve Frasene presented security issues and proposals from the committee, which comprised Assistant Superintendent for Business Operations Meryl Rubinstein along with high school administrators, teachers, parents, students and the school nurse. Mr. Frasene noted that the MHS campus covers more than 476,000 square feet, with some areas quite secluded. With the new café and concourse and the addition of two posts for greeters at the unlocked entrances to the school, the already thin campus supervisor staff has been stretched even thinner, leaving some areas with minimal or no coverage at certain times of the day. Further, MHS buildings are used late afternoon, nights and weekends for a variety of school and community events.

Administrators have noticed an increase in locker thefts in the Post building and Palmer gym lockers. Sixty-three thefts were reported for the 2006-2007 school year, and 36 have been reported since the beginning of the current academic year. This week, someone attempted to break into a coach’s closet in a secluded nook near the tiered classroom. In addition, there have been six major graffiti incidents since September and a number of false alarms set off by students. The “C-wall” located outside the nurse’s office on Carpenter Place is a perennial concern because of its secluded location and a history of drug transactions off campus nearby.

The safety and security committee met several times this winter to identify and discuss these problems and discuss potential resolutions. On behalf of the committee, Mr. Frasene described several proposed security enhancements, including the purchase of an expandable security system, the hiring of additional security personnel to walk the halls, and added training for all security personnel. There was no mention of hiring a SRO.

Mr. Frasene did not propose the purchase of a specific security system, but noted that one vendor had suggested beginning with thirty digital cameras and adding another fifteen cameras in each of two subsequent phases. The cameras can hold up to two weeks of data, which can be reviewed if there is a problem. The cameras have domes to protect against vandalism, can be placed inside or out, and do not require monitoring in “real time.” They are not proposed for bathrooms, locker rooms or classrooms.

The board members raised a number of questions and concerns about the cameras, directed primarily at the significant cost (estimated at almost $97,000 for thirty cameras and their accessories). Board member Michael Jacobson suggested that perhaps the district could start with a smaller number, and his colleague Nancy Pierson suggested that the high school determine the yearly cost of damage due to vandalism, net of insurance. Ms. Levere wondered if the presence of teachers in the halls between classes might reduce the need for cameras or extra security patrols, but Mr. Frasene explained that many of the problems occur in remote areas and after teachers have left for the day.

Several board members asked for a review of the greeter procedure and board member Robin Nichinsky raised concerns about the number of visitors walking past classrooms on their way to the business or personnel offices. Superintendent Paul Fried agreed that the district should create a monitored entrance on the administrative side of the building to eliminate unnecessary traffic in student areas. The possibility of using a camera and buzzer system to admit visitors will be explored.

Student Codes of Conduct: Different for Athletes?

The second part of the study session addressed a question first raised by board members two years ago: why are student athletes asked to sign a code of conduct that is not required of students participating in other extracurricular activities?

Dr. Fried explained that the board had already adopted a comprehensive code of conduct for all students, but an additional code was created by the athletic department and recently revised by the Athletic Advisory Council. The district code governs behavior on school property and at school events, including out-of-town games and trips. In contrast, the athletic code provides penalties for student misconduct at any time, including weekend drinking and drug use. Issues to be considered were the uneven enforcement of the athletic code and whether the standard for weekend conduct could or should be applied to all students who participate in extracurricular activities.

Dr. Fried invited comment from Carol Scheffler, coordinator of student activities. She began by describing “two realities.” First, “a lot of kids drink;” second, from her perspective, it is “always good to get kids involved” in school activities. Ms. Scheffler feared that putting up walls to student involvement would only alienate those who might benefit most from maintaining school connections. In addition, she noted that teachers tell her that requiring more students to sign an extra code of conduct “would teach our kids how to lie.”

An extended conversation followed, with board members comparing codes of conduct from neighboring school districts and addressing the pros and cons of codes that purport to govern conduct unrelated to school or school-sponsored events. Fair penalties, even-handed application and practicality of enforcement were all discussed.

The board agreed to get input from the district’s attorneys on whether athletes should be singled out for a higher standard of behavior and whether the district could attempt to govern conduct unrelated to school or school activities. Ms. Levere asked that the issue be raised again once counsel’s input has been received.

Melany Gray served as a parent member on the MHS safety and security committee and is co-president of the MHS PTSA.