Protecting Downtown schools in the age of ISIS

An ISIS propaganda poster featuring images from last year’s Halloween terrorist attack has helped galvanize parents at PS 89 to demand the city enhance security at Downtown schools.

BY COLIN MIXSON

Parents of students at a Battery Park City elementary school who witnessed the deadliest terrorist attack in new York City since 9/11 are demanding the city tighten security around Lower Manhattan’s most valuable assets — their kids.

“My seven-year-old saw the terrorist get out of his car. She described how he looked, and saw that he had guns,” said BPC resident Stacey LaCorte, mother of two students at PS 89. “I will do anything I have to do to make it safer for them.”

About half a dozen parents of kids in grades K–5 at PS 89 turned out for a meeting of Community Board 1’s Youth and Education Committee on Jan. 16, seeking guidance and support from the local civic honchos in their crusade for safer schools.

The PS 89 delegates represented 120 other parents of the Warren Street academy who have banded together in the wake of the deadly terror attack, which they claim exposed serious flaws in the school system’s security, according to the group’s de facto leader.

“When the guy was out there with his fake guns, we had 400 kids and caregivers in the yard,” said Ellora DeCarlo. “They had trouble getting in the building for refuge, they had trouble getting through the gates. What we saw on Halloween is that we’re not prepared.”

The fact that ISIS used images of the West Street truck attack that killed eight people as propaganda seeking to encourage similar Downtown attacks didn’t ease the parent’s concern, and emails of a Daily Mail article featuring a poster with the weaponized Home Depot truck was passed around by the group.

At the meeting, parents expressed concern about communication and coordination in the event of terrorist attacks or shooting sprees, and worried that school safety officers responsible for guarding kids may not be up to the task.

“They don’t have an authoritative presence,” said DeCarlo. “They’re not a deterrent to anyone that wants to come in and do harm.”

They suggested several security solutions, including an increased police presence, bulletproof windows and doors, bollards surrounding entrances to deter vehicular attacks, and panic buttons by which guards could immediately notify police and school administrators in the event of an attack.

They also pointed to Downtown’s many courts and government buildings, which are brimming with security, as examples of what could be done if officials placed a higher priority on school safety.

“It’s infuriating,” said LaCorte. “It’s like, what about the kids? They’re vulnerable.”

And while parents were eager to explore myriad and sometimes extreme security measures — including cameras outside of bathrooms and armed guards in the hallways — community board members worked to manage expectations.

Tricia Joyce, chairwoman of CB1’s Youth and Education Committee, cautioned that city schools are subject to regulations that both board members and parents often aren’t aware, and warned against requesting expensive, complex security apparatus without consulting school principals.

“I don’t like to get too specific, because sometimes there are parameters that we’re not aware of,” said Joyce.

Instead Joyce and her fellow committee members approved a draft resolution advocating for security enhancements they considered sensible — and easily implemented.

“The logical progression is to begin with a panic button and locked front door,” said Joyce. “It’s inexpensive and feasible.”

Joyce said the committee isn’t married to its suggestions, and is willing to listen to the Department of Education if the agency comes back with alternatives, but the committee chair agreed with parents that immediate changes are required in light of recent threats.

“What we do know, and that we’re absolutely sure about, is an action has to be taken immediately,” Joyce said.

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One Response to Protecting Downtown schools in the age of ISIS

  1. Patricia Donohoe

    I would like to bring attention to the hazardous conditions on the South side of Canal Street beside the Holland Tunnel between Hudson and Varick Streets. If ever there was a street that needed bollards, this is it. I feel that it is an accident waiting to happen the way the cars and trucks zoom along. There is hardly a differentiation between roadway and sidewalk in some areas. Over the years, I have seen evidence of numerous vehicular accidents along this stretch. I see car parts, signs down and sometimes bits of clothing and shoes. I would hate to see a similar scenario occur like the one on West Street on October 31, 2017.

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