Security issues pose concerns at South: How vulnerable is South to security threats?

By Alex Gershanov
Published: May 2010

When history teacher Jamie Rinaldi walked into South at 6:30 am on April 16, he did not expect to see anything out of the ordinary. As he prepared coffee in his office, however, he was confronted by a gentleman who claimed to be searching for his sister.

“He was asking questions that didn’t make a lot of sense, Rinaldi said.

The man then announced that he was trying to make contact with the outside world, at which point Rinaldi took him to the main office to speak with the custodians.

When they asked him what business he had at South, the man got scared and fled. Rinaldi and the custodians called the police but were unable to identify the unknown person.

The incident with this seemingly deranged man brings to light the issue of South security, particularly the freedom of entry South offers to the community. With at least seven exterior doors unlocked during the day, intruders can walk in, often unnoticed, and pose a danger to students and faculty.

Principal Joel Stembridge describes freedom versus security as a delicate balance at South.

“The more freedom, the less secure the building; conversely, a more secure building would result in fewer freedoms, he said. “It is difficult to know where the line should be drawn.

Incidents such as Rinaldi’s are not commonplace, but they are not remarkably rare, either. Head Custodian Ernie Peltier recounted at least one occurrence this year when an unknown man entered the building but left after persuasion. While this particular incident was resolved harmlessly, its occurrence draws attention to the fact that a far more dangerous confrontation may have occurred.

To reduce these risks, South visitors are supposed to check in at the front office, but according to Secretary Bette Lupo, they often do not. The question remains: how vulnerable is South to outside threats and how would administrators recognize these threats if they were to enter school grounds?

Assistant Principal Mary Scott told of several instances of missing items from classrooms and of a young man who entered South without checking in. Scott insists, however, that even though she often stays at South late into the night, she feels safe doing so.

She referenced several recent security improvements, including the installation of security lights outside of South that illuminate the parking lot and make it safer in the dark. According to Peltier, the lights were installed over a year ago in response to the death of a woman who collapsed from a heart attack outside of South.

“[Another] thing we’ve improved is [communication], she said. “The main office and Housemasters have walkie-talkies and can call each other and custodians.

Stembridge agrees that like any security system, South’s is not foolproof. He maintains, though, that increased security would inevitably encroach on student freedoms, which is an unfavorable side effect.

“At some point the loss of freedoms has a negative impact on the atmosphere and community necessary for an optimal learning environment, he said.

Stembridge believes that with so many entrances and exits, South’s building design is not conducive to a single-entry system for visitors. And unlike most of the state’s schools, in which there is a policy of closed campus, South’s open campus makes it difficult to identify who is supposed to be in the building and who is not.

On the front lines of security at South are campus aids, who are often seen patrolling the school. Campus aid Alex Bardin describes his job as being “an aid to the Housemasters and being the eyes and ears of the school.

Bardin explained that when campus aids see someone they are unfamiliar with, they stop them and figure out what they are doing in the building.

“We have had to ask people to leave the campus’€students of other schools, past [South] students, or people who have no real business [at South], he said.

He explained that South’s open campus and student freedom make his job “very difficult. He said, nonetheless, that those are aspects of South that are not easily changed and should not necessarily be changed.

Bardin believes that South needs improved security measures and supports the installation of the recently proposed security cameras.

“Those saying that [security cameras] are an invasion of privacy are not living in this world, he said. “It’s a technological world, surveillance is necessary.

Both Bardin and Peltier brought up the concern that aside from outside threats, there is also a considerable amount of theft and vandalism within the school. Stembridge believes that the proposed security cameras will not only serve to incriminate the guilty, but will act as a preventative measure and deter individuals from stealing.

“Folks who are in the building for mischief or worse will think twice knowing that we would be able to track them down afterwards, he said.

Athletic Director Scott Perrin is also in support of cameras and increased security.

“When you have as many open doors as we do, it’s hard to police [the school], Perrin said. “I hope we make the improvements [beforehand] because the last thing we want to do is react after a tragedy.

Rinaldi, on the other hand, believes that while student and faculty safety is important, it is vital to make sure that security measures do not infringe on civil rights.

“[We need] to be transparent, Rinaldi said. “The administration has to be mindful of that.

He believes that while security cameras are the most cost effective option, more campus aids are preferable to surveillance technology.

“Cameras send the message that if you do something wrong, you will be caught. People send the message that [if you do something wrong], we’re here to guide you, he said. “Campus aids need more support and recognition.

Similarly, most students support solutions that would maintain their freedoms with less security.

Junior Charlotte Sall feels that an open campus prepares students for college and the real world, relying on the students to be responsible and make wise decisions.

“Although it can cause security issues, an open campus is the appropriate setting for a high school, she said. “The freedom that we have is realistic and rewarding, but we are forced to face the consequences.

Stembridge believes that the discussion of freedom versus security is not a simple one, and will take time to properly discuss.

“This is a longer conversation, as it encompasses values that South has nurtured and protected for 50 years, he said.

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