Academy Chronicle

Safety and Security at BCA Takes the Forefront of Conversation after Parkland Shooting

Elana Lane, Writer

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Education has been described as the “great equalizer” of American citizens countless times in history. Students across the country– and around the world, for that matter– receive schooling to prepare them for living in the adult world. One thing unique to schooling in recent years, though, is a more serious approach to preparedness in case of an emergency. Issues of student safety and school security in places of learning, like BCA, have been brought to the forefront of many conversations regarding education in light of the recent massacre in Parkland, Florida.

On February 14, 2018, a 19-year-old gunman armed with an AR-15 assault rifle– a semi-automatic gun– reaped havoc in the school he had been recently been expelled from, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Seventeen students and staff of the school lost their lives as a result, and another fourteen were wounded.

American citizens throughout the country were shaken by this school shooting in particular– perhaps due to the access we have had to the tragic event through social media. “I have to say, from seeing the news reports,  it was the first time in my recollection that I had ever heard the gunshots, and that was chilling to hear how loud they were,” said Mr. Davis, the principal of the Bergen County Academies.

The school shooting in Parkland was not an isolated event, though. It was the eighteenth school shooting occurring in 2018. Just five days prior (February 9, 2018) in Nashville, Tennessee, high school student Demario Crowder nearly lost his life when shot five times by a fourteen-year-old peer in the parking lot of Pearl-Cohn High School. Four days before that (February 1, 2018) in Los Angeles, California, two students of Sal Castro Middle School were injured by gunshot wounds inflicted by a twelve-year-old girl.

“You [our generation] always grew up with this,” said Mrs. Cosgrove, District Security Coordinator of the Bergen County Technical Schools. “You practiced this forever. But schools used to be sacrosanct. Nobody did anything to them. Churches were sacrosanct. The hospitals were sacrosanct. Now, nothing seems to be exempt, and that’s such a cultural shift.”

A constant in the consequent conversations regarding high schools’ safety has been the theme of improvement. Bergen County Academies students’ opinions about school safety after hearing about the shooting in Parkland, Florida tended to become more emphatic. When asked for an opinion, one student who attends the Bergen County Academies, when canvassed about level of security during after-school activities said, “We all have student IDs, but they often don’t get checked.” 

A common issue students around the country worry about is student-shooters’ basic knowledge of their respective schools. “I think that BCA is both safe and unsecure at the same time,” said Daniel Lee, a sophomore in the Academy for Business and Finance. “Being students, we know every way in, as well as every single nook and cranny in the school.”

The BCTS District stressed that none of its security is done in isolation. “We rely on you because you have access to social media; you’re going to see things that we’re not,” Mrs. Cosgrove said. “The Academy psyche is that students come forward. So if there was a friend that was in a crisis or a family situation, students would say, ‘So-and-so is having a difficult time, we’re worried about this.’”

Additionally, the Bergen County Technical Schools District has security measures in place to combat the issue of suspicious activity. Consistency is key with our school district; each school follows the same protocols. The custodial staff of every school in the district aid security personnel immensely. “If anything were to happen, they know the lay of the land, they know the building!” Mrs. Cosgrove said. “If something is wrong– such as the appearance of a package or something goes missing– they would be the first to know.”

The head of the Bergen County Special Services School District Custodial and Maintenance Association attends meetings for the  Bergen County Association of School Security Professionals (BCASP) alongside Mrs. Cosgrove. Others in attendance include the Prosecutor’s Office Risk Mitigation Planner, Bergen County Sheriff’s Department, law enforcement, School Resource Officers, Superintendents, and the School Safety Specialist for the district as required in New Jersey State Law (P.L. 2017 c. 162).

According to Mrs. Cosgrove, the BCASP meets to discuss Best Practices. Best Practices are professional procedures that are accepted as being correct or most effective. “For instance, we used to have red and green cards that [teachers] used to post on the doors–– we don’t do that anymore,” Mrs. Cosgrove said. “And the reason why we don’t want to go by colors is that we don’t want the shooter to know that ‘this is green, everyone in here is okay.’”

While these practices do exist and are executed in the BCTS schools with efficiency,  some BCA students still believe further security measures are necessary.

“I wouldn’t say that level of security is on par to stop a shooter, per se, because I don’t feel we’re really in a ready position,” said Nadil Ranatunga, a freshman in the Academy for Technology and Computer Science. “I feel like if a person wanted to bring a gun to school, no one would know because there’s no checking when you walk into the school or anything.”

When asked what one change would be made to the way in which security is run at the Bergen County Academies, a BCA student proposed a higher number of security officials at the school. “At the end of the day when the sports people come in, anybody can walk in– they open the doors, and there’s no security whatsoever,” the anonymous source said. “I think I would definitely increase the number of security guards that we have.”

“Changes could be made to the level of security at our school, but I don’t really feel they’re very necessary,” Nadil said. “These events seem like once-in-a-lifetime experiences to me. But if there were changes to be made, I would say incorporating simple metal detectors is important.”

“I would start by metal detectors, more security detail, and more attention to access points,” Daniel said.

Still, it is safe to say the Bergen County Technical Schools District Administration cares about our safety as students. “We worry about you kids, we care about you– and I don’t say that flippantly,” Mrs. Cosgrove said. “We don’t want anything to happen to you. You all have so much ahead of you– so many wonderful things. We value you! You’re a precious gift.”

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Safety and Security at BCA Takes the Forefront of Conversation after Parkland Shooting