Jennie E. Hewitt Elementary School now has a temporary room to contain guests, a measure introduced as part of a wave of security enhancements approved by the Rockville Centre Board of Education in February after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
The anterooms, or spaces that act as a buffer zone before visitors can enter the rest of the building, were proposed in all of the district’s seven schools. In the room, guests will be asked to pass over identification to receive a visitor pass. Once they are cleared, they will be allowed to proceed to their destination.
Though the district is awaiting architectural plans for the rooms — expected to include bank teller-type windows and bullet-resistant glass, according to Assistant Superintendent Robert Bartels — it went ahead with building a temporary wall and door at Hewitt earlier this month during the most recent school break, repurposing a piece of the school’s library.
The idea had been discussed in depth at a Board of Education meeting on March 27, during which Hewitt Principal Elizabeth Pryke said she would prefer to wait until the school was ready to build a final version of the room. But several board members, agreeing with the recommendation of Schools Superintendent Dr. William Johnson, said they wanted to see action taken immediately.
“The board prevailed,” Johnson said. “There may be differing opinions, but ultimately it’s the board’s decision.”
Along with the door and wall, a new video intercom system was installed, so that staff in the building can see and speak with a visitor before allowing them into the anteroom. Margaret Gigante, a teacher’s aide who has welcomed guests in the room for a little over a week, said parents have been receptive to the change in procedure.
Pryke noted that noise from the anteroom, in which the new wall does not reach the ceiling, has been distracting at times to students in the library. However, she added, it has bolstered security, which has eased parent concerns. The space also provides a more formal and safe entrance than Hewitt had before, she said, as visitors previously entered directly into a hallway near classrooms before being greeted by an aide.
A final version of the Hewitt anteroom is expected to be at the same location, but on the building’s exterior, Johnson said. A similar room is expected to be built at William S. Covert Elementary School, he noted, adding that other district buildings would simply need new doors and a window in spaces that already exist inside the entrances.
Most anteroom construction is slated to be done during the summer, Bartels said, and would most likely be complete for the start of the next school year.