On Tuesday, two weeks after a flood of parents appeared at a Riverhead Board of Education meeting with concerns about student safety, district’s director of security Terry Culhane provided board members with a security update.
Nearly 60 parents attended the board’s Nov. 27 meeting following incidents in which a BB gun was found in a Riverhead High School student’s backpack, an airsoft gun was found in a student’s bag at the middle school and an altercation involving three students outside the high school prompted one of them to pull out a knife. No injuries were reported in the incidents.
Tuesday’s meeting attracted far fewer parents, but Mr. Culhane assured those present he’d completed a security assessment that reviewed school properties, district security staff and personnel, emergency security plans and outside agencies that assist in school security.
“I am continually reviewing these plans to ensure we follow state guidelines and best practices in the education arena,” he said.
Mr. Culhane, who was appointed at the start of the current academic year, said he’s done everything in his power to make sure the school district is improving security.
“I had taken the first two weeks of my time here to perform a deep dive into the operations of the security department,” he said. “While most of our operations were performing well, there were some minor deficiencies that needed to be addressed.”
These deficiencies, he said, related mainly to emergency procedures and lack of security staff.
As a result, the district has promoted eight substitute guards to full-time status and hired two new security guards for the district. Each elementary school now has at least two guards. The district has also modified their hours to provide more coverage to each building before and after school, Mr. Culhane said.
All district guards have received training in gang awareness, active shooter protocols, bleeding emergencies, passive restraint techniques and incident response. Mr. Culhane said he’s worked closely with Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller and Southampton Town police to improve the guards’ capabilities.
“I have met with a number of law enforcement agencies that have been, or will be in the near future, even more visible at our schools to help us foster the security we’re all striving for,” Mr. Culhane said.
Reception windows at the entrances to the high school and Roanoke Avenue Elementary School were of concern, he said.
“These schools both have the old-style sliding windows, which do not afford the protection that the bank teller-style windows afford,” he said. “These windows are slated to be replaced as soon as the procurement process is complete.”
Mr. Culhane also said the emergency evacuation plan for Roanoke Avenue was “problematic.”
The district, he said, has identified Pulaski Street school as an evacuation site, should Roanoke Avenue need to be evacuated for an extended period, but the distance and route between the schools was unsafe because it required students to walk parallel to a high-traffic area.
He said a new shelter location has been identified to protect Roanoke Avenue students in case of an emergency.
The district also plans to improve the existing camera system, Mr. Culhane said, although the timing of those modifications has not been determined. He said the district plans to add other technology, such as door ajar alerts and social media monitoring, to its procedures.
Mr. Culhane also acknowledged several issues with the damaged fence on the north side of the high school property, which was mentioned at the previous board meeting.
“There’s a high-voltage transformer located right at the breach of the Big Lots property,” he explained. “There is also evidence of a homeless community between the school fence line and the front of the mall on the wetland area, and this is an area where active drug sales and a host of unauthorized activity are being committed.”
The security director said the board has approved funding for a new fence system, which was unanimously approved at the last board meeting.
In the future, Mr. Culhane said, he plans to update the security cameras, with the board’s approval, consider technology for anonymous reporting and social media monitoring and continue to re-evaluate the security plans and procedures.
“I’ll continue to work closely with my peers at other school districts to seek out best practices, emerging trends and general information,” he said.
Superintendent Aurelia Henriquez recognized Mr. Culhane’s efforts to increase security and recognized the guards present at the meeting, which was met with applause from the audience.
“I want to commend you and your staff for the job that you do every day to ensure the safety of our students and staff,” she said.
Aquebogue PTO president Angela Ohlbaum said the current security at Pulaski Street, where her daughter is enrolled, is “phenomenal.”
“Thank you so much for taking on this task of protecting our children It really means a lot to us parents,” Ms. Ohlbaum said. “It’s more of a community feel, and children thrive on being secure and comfortable.”
Photo caption: Terry Culhane addressed school safety concerns and recommendations. (Kate Nalepinski)