MHS Re-Opens Campus After A Week With No Threat

Security Cameras Coming Soon(er)

by Judy Silberstein

(March 13, 2008) Mamaroneck High School was celebrating a dubious victory on Thursday, March 13 – a week without a bomb threat.(See: Third Fifth Bomb Threat in 4 Days Evacuates MHS & Hommocks.) After four consecutive days of finding graffiti threats inside the school, beginning on March 3, school officials implemented a “lock down” on Thursday, March 6 that banned backpacks, restricted after-school activities and required students to enter or exit only through the two main doors on the Palmer and Post sides of the building. Also, beginning last Thursday, students were not allowed to re-enter school once they had left. School staff, assisted by a phalanx of parent volunteers, monitored all 52 doors of the immense facility.

“We had so many people –over 100 volunteers,” said Liz Liscio, co-president of the PTSA. “The building opens at 7:15 am, and we covered the entire day in 2-hour shifts until 2:45.” The PTSA also brought in pizza. “We sold 35 pizzas every day – they were stacked up to the ceiling,” said Ms. Liscio.

“We were told to be non-confrontational and be sure the doors were not propped open; that was our job,” explained Ms. Liscio. She reported only minor incidents: a few students were suspended for trying to get from one building to another via their traditional outdoor shortcuts. There was a fire alarm, but that was caused by a construction worker’s error and not a student prankster.

“It was quite a week, said Mr. Liscio. “We were quite impressed with the kids, the administrators and the teachers, who were walking the halls. It was truly a cooperative spirit.”

Closing the doors represented a major shift for a school that has had an open campus policy for over three decades. Students regularly leave school for lunch or during periods when they have no class scheduled. Parents who recall their own school days of cafeteria lunches and study hall are often surprised to learn that the MHS schedule includes slots during the week when even ninth graders have “frees” in which they are not required to be in school.

“I talked to a load of students about it,” said Carol Scheffler, student activities coordinator, “And the consensus seems to be that they are frustrated by the changes but they recognize the need for them and that they will be temporary.“ The open campus policy “adds to the vitality of campus life tremendously. The kids feel older and more respected,” she said. “Also, when you’re all sitting in the same cafeteria day after day, it tends to reinforce cliques.”

Beginning on March 13, students were again allowed to leave and re-enter the building, but only through the two main entrances. After-school activities resumed, and the buildings were to be “swept” at the end of each evening to insure the absence of any threats.

Ms. Scheffler said “it was definitely frustrating to have activities canceled last week. “It speaks to the commitment of the kids to their extra- curricular activities that they were so frustrated not to be able to go to play practice or sports practice."

The high school principal, Dr. Mark Orfinger, sent messages to parents via email and automated phone calls to keep them advised of changes in procedures. In a March 12 message, he stressed that during the week of threats, “absolutely nothing suspicious was found on any occasion” and that after each threat the schools had been thoroughly checked by the Westchester Special Operations unit, local police and custodial staff.

Camera Surveillance Coming Soon(er)

Despite the relative calm, the district is ramping up its plans to begin installing a camera surveillance system at the high school.

There is $60K included for this purpose in the superintendent’s proposed budget for 2008-2009, but given the sense of emergency created by the bomb threats, the district wants to get started sooner. The Mamaroneck School Board voted on Wednesday, March 12 to begin implementing a process that would allow spending funds from the 2007-2008 budget for the cameras.

Before authorizing any expenditures, however, the board will be briefed further by the assistant superintendent for business operations, Meryl Rubinstein, on which systems are available and what they will cost.