Following public opposition, officials in the Kingston City School District last week scrapped plans to spend a large portion of around $5.3 million in state funding on security updates dubbed “school fortification.”
Critics said the district should instead spend the money improving technology directly related to instruction, which they say is more needed and more in line with the stated purpose of the funding.
Bullet-proof glass and ‘mantraps’
As part of the Smart Schools Bond Act (SSBA), $2 billion funding was approved by voters across the state in November 2014. The purpose was to improve technology infrastructure in schools.
The plan for Kingston was first revealed by Armand Quadrini, managing principal of KSQ Design, the district’s contractor, during a virtual meeting of the Board of Education held on Wednesday, April 7. It called for creating dedicated visitor-access doors, bullet-resistant secure vestibules – called “mantraps” by Quadrini – and other structural changes to accommodate the upgrades.
“When a visitor comes to visit one of our schools in Kingston, they’re directed to a distinct and separate visitors’ entry door,” Quadrini said. “That is the condition today at [the high school], and we want to bring that design principle, and safety and security element to the rest of our schools in the district. The idea is that we buzz in, we gain access to a secure vestibule, sometimes we refer to it as a mantrap…There’s a teller-style window that has fortification in itself, it’s bullet resistant. It allows our greeter or administrative assistant to engage with the visitor (to assess their identity and purpose for visiting), and then they’re…buzzed out of the secure vestibule into the school proper.”
Quadrini added that the upgrades would allow for additional time to respond to issues with visitors who posed a threat.
“In all of the plans, the greeter has a retreat path back into the school,” he said. “So if there’s a person in the vestibule that shouldn’t be there…the greeter is able to retreat into the interior of the school.”
The presentation opened a 30-day public comment period, which yielded considerable pushback by critics of the plan, some of whom said that when the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered schools in March 2020 it revealed inequities in access to technology, and therefore put some students at a disadvantage.
“Technology is a big component of the Smart Schools Bond Act, and even though enhanced security was an allowable use, to us it didn’t speak to the need to improve learning and opportunity for students,” said Charlotte Adamis, who recently retired after 18 years as a librarian in the district. “I’m not sure how bulletproofing schools improves learning and opportunities. An alternative would have been to invest in better access to Wi-Fi. Sometimes I feel like we live in the middle of like the Atlantic Ocean or something.”
Adamis is part of a collective of over 150 people who signed a petition against the district’s enhanced security plans, and she hopes their efforts to engage the district in community involvement will continue as school officials come up with other ways of spending the SSBA funds.
While district officials could not be reached for comment, they do seem to agree that there is a need for greater community involvement. Last week, the KCSD announced plans for a series of community forums to discuss how to improve the district with grant funding. How those forums will look has yet to be determined.
School officials said they weren’t looking to shortchange the technological needs of the district, but were rather seeking to cover needed security upgrades at no cost to the district; other funding could potentially be used toward technology, as the district will receive $6.4 million through the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act enacted on December 20, 2020; and $15.2 million through the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act enacted on March 11, 2021. How that funding will be able to be spent is still being determined.
Adamis said that opponents of the district’s abandoned SSBA plans felt fortifying school buildings came from a place of fear.
“Nobody wants a school shooting,” Adamis said. “Nobody is saying that it is not the most horrific imaginable thing that could happen to a child, to a family, to a community. But could this happen? What’s the statistical likelihood this would happen? I think we’re, we’re facing a kind of cultural divide on this question. There is a portion of the community that is very focused on safety, and I understand their fears. But I also think that we see that this is a fear-based vision, and we’re more focused on what has been happening to our students, not just during the pandemic and the widening of the educational divide between have and have not, but also what was already present and inequitable. And we want the focus to be on that, that if we’re going to be spending monies. We want to see a $4 million project that creates a more beloved community, a powerful, inclusive, equitable community, and one that all children are thriving.”