Archive for Saturday, September 2, 2006

New York School’s locked-door policy upsets some parents

September 2, 2006


The principal says it's a necessary step to ensure kids' safety.

But some parents at New York School in East Lawrence are upset about a decision to lock the doors of the school's newly renovated front entrance at the beginning of the school day. They liken it to locking the front doors of a church on Sunday morning.

"It has a really bad feeling, and it's dividing the school," said Stefanie Olson, a mother of two daughters at the school.

The school's interim principal, Mike Browning, said he made the change at the beginning of this school year because of general security concerns. He said he doesn't have the ability to post an employee at the front door all morning to monitor who's coming in.

"After 7 o'clock in the morning, there's quite a traffic flow that goes in front of New York School, that I think it'd be safer if we kept the front door locked," he said. "I've been in the school business for 33 years, and ever since Columbine, the attitude of secure schools is a number one issue. Probably the one thing that students fear most is, 'Are they safe in their schools?'"

From left, Olive Olson, 5, walks with her mother, Stefanie, and sister, Annie, 7, to New York School, 936 N.Y. Parents and students are barred from using the newly renovated front entrance of the school, frustrating parents and students alike. The Olson family walked to the East Lawrence school on Friday morning.

From left, Olive Olson, 5, walks with her mother, Stefanie, and sister, Annie, 7, to New York School, 936 N.Y. Parents and students are barred from using the newly renovated front entrance of the school, frustrating parents and students alike. The Olson family walked to the East Lawrence school on Friday morning.

Children are now required to walk around the school and enter through north and south doors that lead to a hallway near the gymnasium, where staff members are nearby monitoring a before-school program. At 8:45 a.m., when the school day starts and all kids are inside, the front doors are unlocked.

Debate of the subject on the school's parent-teacher organization list server has been heated. Olson questioned whether it's really safer to allow children to walk around the school. On the north side, they must pass through a parking lot where delivery vehicles and garbage trucks come and go. Parents who drop their children off on New York Street aren't able to see their children go inside.

The school district recently finished drainage work on the front of the school and added a wheelchair-accessible entrance.

"It just makes me so mad that our kids, the people the school is intended to be used for, are not allowed to go in the front door, but everybody else is," Olson said.

Some parents have taken their concerns to Browning or the school district's central offices.

"I'm hoping we can sit down and analyze all the available options to maximize safety and keep the doors open before going forward with the current policy," parent Nancy Cayton Myers said. "I just don't think all the angles have been fully explored, both in terms of potential problems with locking the doors and in seeing how we can work together to continue to keep the doors open."

Tom Bracciano, director of Operations and Facilities Planning for the Lawrence school district, said it's not unusual for a school to have only one entrance that's used in the morning. He said the district is putting a growing emphasis on security, exemplified by plans to install "keyless access" systems at all schools in coming years. At junior highs and high schools, the system will be integrated with security cameras, which will be programmed to train their lenses on a door if someone tries to enter with an unauthorized key card.

"Quite honestly, we just need to know who's in our building," Bracciano said. "Mr. Browning is trying to ensure that he can monitor everybody in the morning."

New York Elementary School

- 6News reporter Deanna Richards contributed to this report.


classclown 11 years, 9 months ago

"Probably the one thing that students fear most is, 'Are they safe in their schools?'""


Somehow I doubt that. I'm sure those kids have plenty of other things occupying their minds. Plus, Columbine happened seven years ago. I'd say most of those kids were way too young for it to have had a big impact on them psychologically.

I had kids in school when Columbine happenedand for the next couple of years, and they nor their friends seemed terribly concerned about it happening at their schools.

I can understand the staff having these concerns, but don't lay it off on the kids.

carolannfugate 11 years, 9 months ago

It doesn't make sense to have two doors open that are hidden from clear view vs one main entry open where there is clear view.

KsTwister 11 years, 9 months ago

If they are going to lock for safety then they should put an intercom system in to allow parents to buzz in. But still with the age of the building fire safety is still an issue isn't it.

sourpuss 11 years, 9 months ago

Well, if he is right and "the attitude of secure schools is a number one issue" then that explains the dropping test scores. Shouldn't -teaching- being a number one issue? How many number one issues can you have? And can't -someone- come up with the extra money to post someone by the front door for an hour?!? How much could that possibly cost? Perhaps the administrators can pass a collection can around their well-appointed offices to pay for it.

If this article represents the creative problem solving by administrators in our public schools, I am not impressed.

justathought 11 years, 9 months ago

Ok...this is just stupid! At our school there are several doors (in the back and sides) that ARE locked from the outside but you can go out them from the inside. I can't understand at all locking the front door???? Just silly...

lori 11 years, 9 months ago

What falling test scores are you talking about?

You can still go out the front door from the inside.

The construction in the front is actually not quite finished. The district is awaiting some equipment and parts to finish the project, and then they need to landscape (since right now it is a muddy mess because of the rains). So intermittently there will still be construction at the front.

I'm a parent at this school; I don't feel like the issue is dividing our school. I think for most parents it's probably not that big of a deal. I don't agree with the frontdoor policy; but I think that some sort of amicable agreement will be reached soon. I do appreciate how difficult it is as a principal to step into a situation for a short time period and make decisions that are going to piss at least someone off. It's also hard to get the feel for a school in such a short time. Mike just started at our school a couple of days before school started, and won't be there much longer. I would imagine that being a substitute principal is a tough job.

The article also did not mention that according to Mike Browning the front-door locking was in response to the discovery of a person who did not belong there walking around in the halls one morning before school.

I would like to see the front doors opened at a certain point, maybe 8:15. I really feel like the locking of the doors was a knee-jerk reaction to the guy wandering around in the halls. If I were the principal, that would have freaked me out, too, and the thought of a child being harmed because of that would have caused me some nights of lost sleep. But now, we've identified that there IS a safety issue; we can get some input of what all the options for addressing it are, not just the locking of the front door.

I guess I'm just confident that Mike made what he thought was the absolute best decision regarding safety at the time. That he wasn't thinking, Hmmm, how can I really piss all the parents off? And I'm also thinking that we have a really awesome school community, and that we can come up with some sort of compromise that is agreeable to everyone.

Christine Anderson 11 years, 9 months ago

Just a suggestion- could the school allow parent volunteers to "police" the entrance? As a parent of students at Prairie Park, I would be very upset too if the front door were to be locked. However, I feel they (school personnel) really are looking out for our kids' best interests. It truly is sad, but there are schools in the KC Metro area with metal detectors which even little ones at the elementary level would have to pass through. At least we're not there yet?

number3of5 11 years, 9 months ago

If the school can't afford to pay someone to monitor the front door, are there parents who could volunteer to monitor it? If several parents volunteered, they would not have to be there everyday, but could rotate. Just a thought.

sourpuss 11 years, 9 months ago


By 'falling test scores' I was referring to the lower SAT scores, though this is a national issue. I was not referring to New York School in particular, more trying to comment on general misplaced priorities by school administrators.

Sorry for the confusion. I actually went to New York School for Kindergarten with Ms. Heffeley eons ago. I remember it fondly.

I'm sure the principal only has the best of intentions, but I think there is a more creative and better way to solve this problem. I would rather see ALL of the children enter the front where their parents can watch them until they enter the building. I'm sure they can find a trusted person to watch the doors if they use their imagination and come up with a solution. Besides, I wonder about the quote: 'Children are now required to walk around the school and enter through north and south doors that lead to a hallway near the gymnasium, where staff members are nearby monitoring a before-school program.' If staff members are busy with a before school program, how effectively can they REALLY watch the doors, and why press so much responsibility on them? Just pay someone a little more to get there an hour early. Good grief. I'm sure someone could use the money.

sourpuss 11 years, 9 months ago

Another solution: I don't know the nature of these before school programs, but can one be moved to another room so that the instructor can see the front doors? I don't know the nature of the program or layout of the school well, but perhaps that is a possibility as well.

usaschools 11 years, 9 months ago

Sourpuss, New York Elementary has rising test scores, so I guess your theory is wrong.

gaiapapaya 11 years, 9 months ago

My kids attend New York. We usually don't enter through the front becuase we walk across the playground. That said, no one told parents that the front doors were to going to be locked. It would have been great to get a note home about it. Most of the kids who go to New York are there for before school program, or at least breakfast.

There is also not a "safe" place to drop the kids at all. Prarie Park has a front entrance with a cirlce drive and I imagine most of the kids show up right before school. New York has parking on both sides of a narrow street in front of the school. Hopefully, someday, we'll get a circle drive.

Mike, the fill-in principal, will only be there a few weeks longer. I don't like the front door policy, either, but when the principal returns, she can change it back. I think he was just trying to do what he felt he could to keep the kids as safe as possible. We, as parents, have had been lucky to have a principal who actively communicates with us and wants our input on issues. I think Mike is just doing his best during his short stint, without having had a chance to get to know all the parents and know what he can and can't expect of us.

I want the front doors open, but feel confident that they will be open, like they were before, once our principal returns.

leslie 11 years, 9 months ago

There was a strange man wandering the halls of the school??? I'm a New York parent--there has been no communication from the administration regarding this incident. Who was he? Were the police notified?

sao 11 years, 9 months ago

The idea to have a parent team monitor the front door was the first solution that Nancy and I proposed to Mr. Browning. He dismissed it saying we do so much for the school already that we shouldn't be bothered with this. Further followup on the idea of help in the morning received no response from him.
On Friday of last week a parent asked the district if this policy was in response to a specific incident and was told no that the distric was just being cautious. On Monday Nancy and I asked Mr. Browning if the incident was in direct response to an incident and he said he had seen some boys scuffling in the hall but mainly he just wanted to be cautious. So the mystery man was not an issue Monday. On Tuesday the doors were locked so if a mystery man was on campus that day he would have had to come in from the back safe doors...a police report may help clear this up.

matahari 11 years, 9 months ago

Hmm, does it follow fire safetly codes?

lori 11 years, 9 months ago

At the PTO meeting, Mike said that a janitor had seen a fellow whom he didn't recognize as a parent in the hall before school. He apparently asked him what he was doing, and the guy said he was looking for a bathroom. The janitor escorted him from the building with apparently no incident. So I'm not sure if it was repoted to the police or not.

Stephanie, I don't know why it didn't come out before the PTO meeting. I guess there are two possibilities. One, the incident never happened and Mike lied about it. The other, he didn't tell you about it at your meetings, for whatever reason.

In general I agree, communication has been lacking. I personally attribute this to Mike's inexperience in working in the elementary school system (as opposed to being an administrator for so long at the high school level) and with his unfamiliarity with NY school's general environment, and communication flow and expectations specifically. I don't know, I just feel like giving him the benefit of the doubt, I don't think he's a malicious, secretive guy, just a guy trying to do a pretty complex job in an unfamiliar environment.

And in any case, as Shawn points out, he'll only be there for a few more weeks, and then the regular principal will be back, and she can deal with the long-term solutions then.

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