NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- For the past two weeks, a New Rochelle school principal allowed a volunteer parent, armed with a handgun, to augment existing school security in the wake of the Newtown Tragedy. The parent, a man who works for a law enforcement agency outside of New Rochelle and spoke with Talk of the Sound, stood post near the security desk, walked the halls and entered classrooms. In at least one instance, the man offered "security training" to a group of students in a second grade classroom.
Parents, staff and students were not informed as to who the parent was, what they were doing there or that the person was armed. Some law enforcement agencies require officers to carry their firearms at all times. This particular parent works for such an agency.
The issue was raised obliquely at a recent school board meeting. On January 8th, a speaker during the public comment period asked whether the board had approved armed guards at any of the district's schools. Board members and administrators appeared perplexed by the question and did not provide a definitive answer but did commit to providing a written response after the meeting. No such written response has been forthcoming.
Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak and New Rochelle Board of Education President Chrisanne Petrone did not respond to an email from Talk of the Sound seeking comment sent earlier today.
Asked whether the New Rochelle Board of Education had advised local police of an armed security presence in New Rochelle schools, New Rochelle Police Detective Captain Joseph Schaller said that he was not aware of any such request.
Lambert did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Talk of the Sound spoke with the volunteer parent who stated that he approached Barnard Elementary School Principal Patricia Lambert after the Newtown shooting. He says he volunteered because his daughter attends the school and he wanted to help make the school safe. He says that Lambert approved his request to provide armed security on a volunteer basis. Other sources have confirmed this account.
The parent appeared at the school numerous times over the past two weeks. Upon learning this story was set to run, he stated he would not be going back to the school to volunteer to work security. He expressed concerns their may be repercussions if his agency learns of his actions at the school.
At least two laws may have been violated.
The New York Project SAVE Law requires background checks for volunteers who work directly with children. At this point it is not clear whether this type of volunteer work required a background check -- and school officials refuse to comment -- but based on past cases, it appears likely a background check was required and unlikely a background could have been completed in the weeks since the Newtown shooting.
It is a misdemeanor under New York Penal Law to carry a firearm on school grounds without written authorization.
Unauthorized possession of a rifle, shotgun or handgun on school grounds is a crime.
S 265.01 Criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree.
…He or she knowingly has in his or her possession a rifle, shotgun or firearm in or upon a building or grounds, used for educational purposes, of any school, college or university, except the forestry lands, wherever located, owned and maintained by the State University of New York college of environmental science and forestry, or upon a school bus as defined in section one hundred forty-two of the vehicle and traffic law, without the written authorization of such educational institution.
Lambert's decision to allow an armed person into her building raises a number of questions:
1. Did this person have written authorization from the New Rochelle Board of Education to carry a firearm on school grounds?
2. Did the New Rochelle Board of Education authorize this person to provide security training or stand post or otherwise volunteer?
3. Did this person submit to fingerprinting and a background check before being permitted to provide classroom instruction or interact with students?
In addition to the issue at Barnard, another parent volunteer at another school also works for a law enforcement agency that requires its officers to carry their firearm at all times. This parent of a Davis Elementary School parent has openly discussed doing security checks at Davis, presumably armed.
This raises questions about district policy regarding parents or visitors who work in law enforcement and are required to carry their firearms at all times when they enter a school.
School officials have yet to respond to these and other questions.
This is not the first time that Patricia Lambert has had problems at Barnard. In 2010, she waited hours to report an intruder in her building and then lied about the incident to parents. Lambert told parents in a letter and robo-call that the school was put on lockdown immediately when a man was seen outside the building near Amy' Greenhouse. In fact, Lambert ignored repeated reports of an intruder over the course of the day. The man was later found hiding inside a closet in a second-floor classroom by a Teaching Assistant. When she reported a man had run out of a closet into the hallway, Lambert still refused to call police for an additional 45 minutes. The school was not put on lockdown that day; police did a sweep through the classrooms while the students were still in class.
There have been many other problems as well -- the security desk is often unattended when the regular school security guard is at lunch or otherwise unavailable, the buzzer/camera system does not work properly so the door is often left open and unattended, staff routinely fail to wear the security IDs on lanyards and much more.
The truth is that a parent who is a police officer volunteered to assist us at the door on his day off. He has been here a few times simply helping with sign in at the door and checking to make sure our doors are locked securely.
Lambert has a history of providing false and misleading information to parents, especially regarding school security. Despite her denials to parents, our story is accurate, based on multiple sources in the building as well as two interviews with the parent/volunteer yesterday in which he was provided a summary of the story we intended to run. The parent/volunteer acknowledged the account described in this article, that he had approached Lambert and that she accepted his offer to provide armed security at the school on days when he was available. The parent volunteer was at the school 1-2 days each week since the week after Newtown and had planned to be at the school this Monday.
There were numerous complaints by staff that an unknown and unidentified person was walking the hallways, standing at the front door and, in at least one instance, entering classrooms. District policy requires that employees wear their ID badges on lanyards and that parents and guests wear ID stickers or be escorted through the building. The parent/volunteer in the case did not display any sort of ID nor was there communication with school staff as to who this person was or what they were doing at the school.
Some staff confronted the parent/volunteer. Other complaints were made. These complaints made their way to School Security Director Bruce Daniele last week. Daniele went to the school last Friday to investigate the complaints. He met with Principal Lambert and, according to one source, disavowed any knowledge of the parent/volunteer or what they were doing in the school. Her story has since changed.
Lambert has denied that the parent/volunteer entered any classrooms. In fact, the parent/volunteer entered the second grade classroom of teacher Koren (Qualey) Mahoney. In the classroom, the parent/volunteer offers safety training to the students. The parent/volunteer has a child in the school, in Pre-K, and so would have likely been in his own child's classroom as well although there is no information to this effect at this time.
Lambert states that parent/volunteer is a police officer but does not address his being armed. In a related matter, NYPD Police Officer Chris Danielo, a Davis Parent and newly-minted member of the school safety team, admitted to a group of parents to being armed while performing security checks at Davis Elementary School. NYPD police officers typically carry their firearms at all times and are legally permitted to enter schools and most any other building in the United States with a firearm.
On its face, Lambert's explanation to parents is nonsensical. Why would the security guard need "help" with sign in at the door or checking doors? How many people does it take to check a door? If the security guard at Barnard is incapable of managing sign in at the front door and requires "help" from an off-duty police officer what is happening on the days when this parent/volunteer is unavailable? And is Lambert saying that the security guard, a man who has worked at the school for many years, is somehow not capable of managing sign in on his own? If this was all on the up-and-up then why did Lambert initially disavow any knowledge of the parent/volunteer? Why did she not inform staff, the School Security Director, New Rochelle police, the Superintendent or Board Members? Why did she not respond to requests for comment. Why have school officials refused to reply for requests for information? If there is nothing to hide then why are they hiding?
EDITOR'S NOTE: Talk of the Sound has spoken with the parent/volunteer and, obviously, we know his name. The parent/volunteer expressed concerns about repercussions should his agency learn that he was working security at the school without authorization from his commander. Talk of the Sound agreed to withhold his name under two conditions: (1) he would answer questions and confirm his approach to Lambert and her acceptance of his offer to provide armed security at the school on his day's off; (2) that district officials did not respond to this story with lies in an attempt to cover up the incident. It appears, based on Lambert's email and the refusal of school officials to provide an on-the-record statement, that this story is now moving past that point.
Barnard Principal Patricia Lambert has doubled-down on her false statement to parents in phone calls and emails by sending out a robo-call message to parents calling this article "thoughtless and irresponsible" and asserting that the "allegations" are "entirely inaccurate".
Good evening Barnard parents. This is Patricia Lambert, Principal, with an important message.
The allegations contained in a recent blog posting about our school are entirely inaccurate.
A community minded and thoughtful Pre-K parent who works in law enforcement volunteered to help out in the school following the tragedy in Newtown. His work within the school was limited to monitoring the front door with the security guard, making sure doors were locked securely and helping out his daughter's classroom teacher like many parent volunteers do on a regular basis.
Based on direct conversation with the parent in question we can state with certainty that at no point during his time at Barnard school did he ever have a weapon on his person nor did he visit classrooms to discuss school safety. To claim otherwise is completely false
It is thoughtless and irresponsible reporting like this that deflates our school sense of community, support and positive energy.
Barnard continues to be a warm, inviting and safe school.
Talk of the Sound continues to stand by our story.
Principal Patricia Lambert is not being truthful with parents and the public. It had been our hope to leave the identity of the parent/volunteer out of the story for reasons that will become clear but as Lambert is invoking that parent in her message to parents we no longer have any choice.
The parent/volunteer is Herbert Monterossa (sp.). He works at the New York Police Department 40th Precinct in the South Bronx (Port Morris/Mott Haven/Melrose)
Before the story ran, Talk of the Sound made several calls to Monterossa on his personal line and to the 40th Precinct. We were unable to leave messages on his personal line because the voice mailbox was full. After one such call at 8:58 a.m. a return call was made by Monterossa at 9:02 a.m. That call lasted 12 minutes. Monterossa was initially combative and hostile and more so upon being informed that the call was for a story on New Rochelle school security for Talk of the Sound. He said "I don't know you" and threatened to hang up the phone several times but remained on the line. Informed that Talk of the Sound would be running a story that he had been providing armed security at the Barnard School since the Christmas Break, Monterossa changed his tone. He became plaintive, begging that Talk of the Sound not run the story. Monterossa stated he was on probationary status with NYPD and that he would be suspended or fired if the story came out. Monterossa invoked his child, stating that he had to provide for his family and repeated several times that he was going to be fired if the story came out.
After several minutes of this sort of pleading, Talk of the Sound agreed to leave his name out of the initial report on two conditions: that he answer questions about how he came to be working school security at Barnard and that the district not that respond with false or misleading statements. Monterossa agreed to those terms and proceeded to tell his story. He confirmed that he approached Lambert, identified himself as a police officer and offered to provide an armed presence at the school on a volunteer basis when his work schedule allowed. Monterossa stated that Lambert accepted his offer and he began to stand post and patrol the school soon after. Asked about entering classrooms and providing safety instruction to students, Monterossa again began pleading that Talk of the Sound not run the story, that even with his name left out there was going to be an investigation and he was going to be fired. He obsessed on that point. He then asked if he could call Lambert and talk to her before we ran the story. He ended the call and then called back at 9:23 a.m. That call last 3 minutes. In the second call, Monterossa's demeanor was different. He was no longer defensively answering questions. He became aggressive, demanding to know how this reporter became aware of the story, who had provided information and how his phone number and obtained. This sort of response is typical of how the school district responds when confronted with information they do not want made public. His changed demeanor suggested that Monterossa had spoken to Lambert or someone similar and received guidance to stop talking and gather as much information about this reporter's sources as possible. When it became clear that Monterossa was no longer cooperating, this reporter terminated the call.
Emails and phone calls were then made to school officials seeking comment. A message left for Principal Lambert with office staff at Barnard at 10:01 a.m. was not returned. The person picking up the phone stated that Lambert was out of the building all day.
An email was then sent Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak, Board President Chrisanne Petrone, Board Vice President Deirdre Polow, Assistant Superintendent Jeffrey Korostoff and communications consultant Paul Costiglio seeking comment.
From: Robert Cox
Subject: Re: Authorization to Carry Firearm in New Rochelle Schools?
Date: 1/15/2013 10:06 AM EST
To: Richard Organisciak
, Deirdre Polow , Chrisanne Petrone , Jeffrey Korostoff
Cc: Paul Costiglio
Dear Superintendent Organisciak,
The school board was asked on January 8th at their recent meeting whether the district had authorized any persons to carry a firearm in any New Rochelle school. There was some mumbling and head-shaking but no definitive answer. I am seeking a definite answer now.
I am running a story today and would like comment on the situation at Barnard School. My deadline is noon today.
My story will say that Principal Patricia Lambert accepted an offer from a parent volunteer to stand post and otherwise "work" security at the school. That this person is a sworn police officer and was carrying a gun while volunteering at the school. Further, that this individual entered classrooms and provided "security training" to children at the school.
1. Did this person have written authorization from the New Rochelle Board of Education to carry a firearm on school grounds? Provide security training or stand post or otherwise volunteer?
2. Did this person submit to fingerprinting and a background check before being permitted to interact with students, provide classroom instruction?
3. Was the NRPD notified that an armed person was "working security" at Barnard?
4. What is the district policy regarding parents or visitors who work in law enforcement and are required to carry their firearms at all times when they enter a school. You have this case at Barnard but you also have another police officer who has been walking the grounds and building at Davis as well? Are they receiving written permission to enter schools with firearms or being required to keep their service weapons out of the school?
Your prompt cooperation is appreciated.
New Rochelle's Talk of the Sound
Several off-the-record conversations with school officials followed with but no official, on-the-record statements were provided. A second message seeking comment was delivered to Lambert via email soon after.
From: Robert Cox
Subject: Herbert Monteroso
Date: January 15, 2013 10:30:44 AM EST
I am running a story that says you accepted the offer of a parent volunteer, a police officer, to provide armed security at Barnard over the past two weeks.
Further, that parents, staff and students were not informed as to who this person was, what they were doing at the school or that he was armed while in the building.
Also, that this parent went into classrooms and, in at least one instance, provide security training to students.
My deadline is noon today.
I was hoping to get a reply from you before the story runs.
New Rochelle's Talk of the Sound
It has now been two days and there has still been no official, on-the-record response from the district.
EDITOR'S NOTE: We stand by our story. It is based on multiple eyewitness accounts, two interviews with Monterossa and is entirely accurate. I would like, however, to address the claims by Lambert that this article is "thoughtless and irresponsible" and "entirely inaccurate". Quite the opposite is the case.
For two weeks, the purpose of Monterossa being in the building was kept secret from staff and parents. It was only revealed after Talk of the Sound ran this story. If Monterossa was simply there to help with sign in and to check doors, as Lambert now claims, then why not communicate that to building staff? Why not tell parents? Why did Bruce Daniele go to Barnard last Friday to investigate complaints about Monterossa? Why did Monterossa fail to show on Monday? Why did Monterossa state in his interview with Talk of the Sound that he would no longer go to the school except to drop off/pick up his child if talk of the Sound did not run the story? If all is as Lambert now claims, then why did she and district officials refuse to respond to my requests for comment? Why isn't Monterossa back this week helping with sign in and checking doors? Robo-calls to parents in a case like this are written and vetted at the highest levels of the administration with consultation of board officers (Polow, Petrone). All of those involved were given time to comment on the story before it ran and elected not to do so. Why?
The answer is that our story is accurate and having been found out Lambert and school officials are running for cover.
In 2010, Lambert sent home a similar robo-call message to parents regarding an intruder in the Barnard school. At that time, Lambert made two false claims: that the man was never inside the building (he was) and that the school was put on lockdown (it was not). Yet the response of the district to the incident was to institute a new policy that all district employees were required to wear and display their school ID at all times. Lanyards were purchased for every employee and distributed throughout the district. If the man at Barnard was never in the building then why would the district respond by requiring employees to wear their IDs whenever they were in a school building? Simple, the man was in the building and had been so for hours before being discovered hiding in a closet in a second floor classroom.
Similarly, if Monterossa was not armed and simply standing next to the security guard employed by the district then what value was he adding by his presence? Why were parents and staff not notified? Just like handing out lanyards makes no sense if the Barnard intruder was not in the building, the district's response does not make sense unless Monterossa was armed, as is standard practice for NYPD officers. The fact is that it is legal for a sworn police officer to carry a firearm in a school and there is no district policy against that so neither Monterossa nor Lambert broke any laws or violated school policy. The reason Monterossa is worried about his job is that NYPD requires their officers to obtain approval before working security in any capacity, paid or volunteer. From his reaction, it would appear that Monterossa failed to obtain that approval and, as a new officer still on probationary status the consequences for this actions may be more severe than an experienced officer.
RELATED: In 2011, it was discovered that Lambert's administrative license was not in order.