Last week, four suspects fleeing the scene of an armed robbery in downtown New Rochelle were stopped in their vehicle on Clove Road just two blocks from New Rochelle High School. The suspects, at least one of them armed with a handgun, fled on foot towards the school. Three were apprehended in the teacher’s parking lot, within yards of two school entrances. The fourth was apprehended on the nearby softball field.
The incident revealed, once again, that school security procedures are not followed, staff is not trained, students not drilled and that school officials directly responsible for school security are incompetent. Only by luck was a tragedy averted.
Once again, the response to a major security failure has been greeted with the usual claptrap from City and School officials where everyone is given a pat on the back for a job well done. This sort of self-congratulatory nonsense amounts to a deception intended to provide parents with false reassurance while protecting the jobs and reputations of the people who screwed up.
What actually happened on Tuesday when four armed men, fleeing police, ran onto the New Rochelle High School campus, is that the high school was put into “lockdown” instead of “lockout” for about 20 minutes, leaving students and staff vulnerable to four dangerous fugitives.
The incident demonstrates that more than three years after Sandy Hook, the security of the public schools in New Rochelle remains a debacle leaving the health and safety of students and staff continues to be at risk. In this instance, board-approved security protocols were not followed, there were significant communications breakdowns, and armed intruders came within less than 50 yards of two entrances to the high school.
It is not hard to imagine how, if these armed intruders had run just a little faster, had zigged left instead of zigged right, they would have been in the building with a gun while fleeing armed police officers, a dangerous and combustible situation to say the least.
As usual, the reaction of many in the community has been indifference or expressions of gratitude that no one got hurt coupled with the default response of many parents to engage in wishful thinking — that everyone in the school district is doing their job correctly to protect their children. This is simply not the case and has been that way for a very long time.
This brings to mind parent and community reaction to the ceiling collapse at Webster or the rape of students by an administrator at Isaac Young — “it could have been worse”.
Few seem aware that when Governor Pataki signed the New York State SAVE Law in 2003, the District was required to create and maintain a district-wide safety plan and a set of building-level safety plans. Those plans were created in 2003 and then sat gathering dust right up until the Sandy Hook tragedy in December 2012. Under the law, the plans were to be updated annually, with hearings, and monitored by regular public meetings of the various safety committees. None of this happened.
This is all part of a broader issue with the school and a reason that an in-house lawyer is needed to provide basic legal services, manage outside counsel and serve as compliance officer.
After a series of exposes by Talk of the Sound in 2003, the New Rochelle Board of Education held hearings, appointed committee members and developed safety plans for each building and the district as a whole. The meetings of the committees were never announced to the public, never opened to the public, no agendas were prepared and no minutes kept. A Freedom of Information request by Talk of the Sound seeking these records in 2013 and 2015 were denied on the grounds that no such records existed — a clear violation of New York State law.
The employee responsible for managing the SAVE Law meetings is Ellen Garcia.
In 2013 and 2014 there were a series of bomb threats at New Rochelle High School during which written and board-approved security protocols were not followed. Confronted about this failure by Talk of the Sound, the district announced they were no longer going to follow the written, board-approved plan and made up a new plan that school officials would “consult” with police before making a security decision. The new protocols were not formally updated.
Since 2012, there have been numerous other security failures in New Rochelle such as schools including intentionally allowing intruders into the school, not holding required drills, not following evacuation procedures and more. Once egregious example in 2013, involved the failure to evacuate two wheel-chair enabled students during a fire emergency which resulted in a successful lawsuit by the U.S. Department of Justice against the district which deemed the testimony of school officials as not-credible. Put simply, Director of Special Education Yvette Goorevitch lied as did senior staff at New Rochelle High School.
The federal court ruled in favor of the families involved in the case and there is now a $26 million federal lawsuit to assess financial damages in the case.
Talk of the Sound has documented numerous examples of employees who should never have been hired as security guards, who committed criminal acts while working as security guards, who lied on their job applications about their residency, who did not meet civil service requirements, who had involvement with drugs, showed up drunk at work and more. For years, few security guards took required training courses or possessed a required state license. One of the key people involved, John Earvin, was indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice on an unrelated matter, embezzling funds from an MTA union to feed a gambling habit.
In short, school security in New Rochelle is a sick joke which serves for too many undeserving people as a halfway house and social welfare employment agency for people who are part of the friends and family network, who do not want to work but do want to get paid, to get benefits and pensions all while sitting around reading newspapers or fiddling with their iPhones.
For years, the financial cost of school security was hidden in the annual school budget. Last year, for the first time, the budget was broken out separately. The 2015-16 budget revealed that the total amount spent on school security exceeded $4 million, a staggering figure that dwarfs other school districts with superior security operations.
Among the factors causing the incredible amount of waste, fraud and abuse within the Security Department is the massive security staff - over 100 full-time and part-time security guards. The New Rochelle Police Department has roughly 170 police officers but they operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to patrol the entire City of New Rochelle not 11 school buildings. Another cause is that while the prevailing wage in Lower Westchester for school security staff is $10-12 an hour, New Rochelle pays about $20 an hour — including for many employees who work in other districts at the lower wage. It all amounts to an effort to throw money at members of the friends and family network.
Talk of the Sound has written extensively about the routine use of illegal 211 Waivers to allow retired police officers to to continue to draw their police pension while working for the district despite a law that which limits 211 waivers to persons filling short-term, temporary and unexpected vacancies. In New Rochelle these positions have been filled for years at a time. Bruce Daniele has been granted an illegal 211 waiver for almost a decade.
In an effort to report on this incident, Talk of the Sound requested an ”after action" report including a detailed time line and asked a series of questions, none of which have been answered. Instead, Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Osborne and New Rochelle City Manager Charles B. Strome issued a joint public statement. The statement is a response to our inquiries but is not responsive to them.
Here is the statement with key points highlighted (by us) in bold.
“On February 2, 2016, the New Rochelle Police department pursued and apprehended four men suspected of robbing the EZ Mobile & Computers store on Division Street at gunpoint. The pursuit occurred in the vicinity of New Rochelle High School and at dismissal time. The New Rochelle Police Department alerted New Rochelle high school security of the police activity and New Rochelle High School conducted security procedures to prevent anyone from leaving or entering the school building. Dismissal was delayed by approximately 20 minutes. The school was not entered by the suspects or police during the pursuit.
We commend the staff and students at the New Rochelle High School for taking swift action to secure the school, making appropriate adjustments as events unfolded and conducting an orderly delayed dismissal that avoided interfering with the police action. We commend the New Rochelle Police Department for the successful apprehension of the suspects while prioritizing the safety of students and staff as this fluid and chaotic situation unfolded.
This unfortunate incident had a positive outcome, and we continually seek ways to improve the safety and security of our students and staff. Police and school officials will be debriefing the episode in the coming weeks in a joint effort to continuously improve coordination and safety protocols.
Dr. Brian Osborne, Superintendent of Schools
Mr. Chuck Strome, City Manager”
Talk of the Sound obtained a copy of an email sent to staff that day at 3:15 pm which states that NRPD contacted the school at 2:51 pm. to advise them of ongoing police activity. The email says the police advised the school to go on "lockdown" at 2:51 pm. Staff is being advised by the email that the school is no longer on "lockdown" but rather "lockout" so teachers do not need to wait for someone to open their classroom doors.
A second email sent to staff the next day by New Rochelle High School Principal Reggie Richardson again blame police for the failure to go on lockout for more than 20 minutes.
"The police erroneously ordered the high school to enter into a lock down. When they realized the error they directed us to move to a lock out."
The school security protocol does not call for police to order the high school into any particular security posture.
What actually happened is that police accessed the high school radio frequency while the incident was in progress and stated “lockdown your school”, according to one well-placed source.
The message “lockdown your school” was interpreted as a directive by police to put the school in lockdown. The police have no such authority to direct that a lockdown take place.
The security protocol for armed intruder outside the building is “lockout” — all doors are to be locked, any student or staff outside the building is kept out and directed to report to the alternative location for the high school.
This did not happen.
Instead, the school was put on “lockdown” where teachers lock classroom doors with their students inside. Students and staff outside the school were called back into the school - the worst thing to do in the existing circumstances. No one was directed to the alternative location. Further, there was no communication with transportation companies so that buses began arriving at the school and, in one case observed directly by this reporter, a yellow bus from Ward School pulled up directly behind the crime scene on Clove Road and dropped off students who then ran past the crime scene to their homes.
Bruce Daniele, Director of School Security and former New Rochelle police officer, was not on scene when the incident occurred. He was leaving a school safety meeting at Columbus School as part of the ongoing Building Condition Survey review.
Daniele, made aware that the school had been put on “lockdown” instead of “lockout”, attempted to contact the main office at New Rochelle High School to correct the error. According to remarks made by Ellen Garcia during a school safety meeting at Isaac Young Middle School, Daniele was unable to reach anyone in the main office because the school is set up so that all calls dump directly to voice mail. She observed that voice mail system needed to be ripped out. Calling while he was driving, Daniele was unable to reach anyone and instead, after arriving on scene, personally directed the change in security posture. By then more than 20 minutes had been passed and the incident was over with all four suspects in custody.
This event demonstrates a complete failure in the protocol — a training failure in not following the protocol, and a failure in critical communication.
OPEN LETTER TO NEW ROCHELLE BOARD OF EDUCATION: Flawed Logic in New Policy of Consultation Before Evacuation at New Rochelle Schools