What to Believe: Shelter-In or Fire “Drill”?

Addressing the importance of communication and transparency from the administration regarding safety protocols and threats to the Stuyvesant body’s safety.

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This article was sent for printing on November 13, and some information may have changed or been updated since.

Stuyvesant sent the school into a roughly two-period-long shelter-in on the morning of Wednesday, October 26. For the rest of the day, students were barred from exiting or entering the building with no explanation, only later learning that the school had received an anonymous threat over the phone.

Two weeks later, an evacuation drill was announced over the PA and lasted for another two periods, on the afternoon of November 9. Some students who had just changed for gym class were left standing in the cold in their uniforms for more than an hour. Students were later informed that the school had been sent another anonymous e-mail threat.

The potential threats to school safety come stacked upon almost daily reports of violent crime in the city and subways, such as a man stabbing a subway passenger with a samurai sword or people being pushed onto the tracks, and has led to an effort by Stuyvesant administration to revamp its security procedures.

One such effort to improve security is the recent 4:00 p.m. no-entry policy, which states that no students may be allowed back into the building after 4:00 p.m. This policy aims to keep students safe during afterschool activities by having them accounted for at all times. However many students feel it is another bureaucratic nuisance. The policy is controlling students rather than any potential threats, most of which occur during the school day rather than after school. Especially in a neighborhood such as Tribeca, where most feel comfortable walking outside during that time of day, the new policy ultimately feels unnecessary. Though it is a valid attempt, it fails to make students feel safer.

Moreover, the 4:00 p.m. no-entry policy was not effectively communicated to students, especially as many weren’t notified through a formal e-mail addressing this new implementation. It was put in place on Friday, October 31, with no indication other than a poster on the security desk. Though it was mentioned in one of Stuyvesant’s Weekly Updates and the morning announcements the following week, there was a general lack of transparency, with little being said on why the new system was in place. Students, staff, and clubs had to deal with the immediate and strict enforcement of the policy, leaving many unable to reenter the building despite having valid ID and clear obligations. Exceptions were made for certain clubs and events like the open house, but other than that, it has been a hard rule.

Additionally, there are more pressing issues that Stuyvesant could address to improve security for students. One glaring example is the fire drill procedure, which many students and even some teachers do not take seriously. This indifference to safety procedures was seen during the anonymous e-mail threat, where students were evacuated under the pretense that they were participating in a drill. As a result, many students and teachers were slow to exit despite the serious threat. Stuyvesant also releases a schedule of safety drills at the beginning of the year, which feels counterintuitive, considering that students are supposed to be training for an unprecedented and possibly life-threatening event. During lock-down drills, some teachers continue to teach as normal.

As law enforcement officers swarmed the building on October 26 and secured the school floor by floor, rumors swirled amongst the students. Some claimed that someone tried to enter with a fake ID, while others said that they saw a minor being tackled and arrested. Suspicions ranged from bomb and shooting threats to a rabid raccoon break-in. Teachers and administration did little to address these rumors, with many explaining that they did not have any more information than the students. However, it is also important that students themselves avoid fueling the rumor mill during possibly life-threatening situations, since spreading misinformation leads to either heightened apathy or panic. Even many weeks later, the school remains unforthcoming about the nature of the threat. A similar phenomenon occurred during the November 9 evacuation, during which rumors passed between students that there was either a gas leak in the building or a bomb threat, and teachers, who had no information themselves, were unable to shed any light on the issue.

In the future, we hope that more action can be taken to increase transparency at Stuyvesant regarding safety. For one, safety drills at Stuyvesant are typically taken very lightly, and times during which fire drills or lockdowns occur tend to be easily discovered by students. To make these safety drills a more serious matter, as they should be, staff can refrain from discussing the dates and times of these drills to avoid spreading unnecessary knowledge about them.

By explaining direct reasons behind new safety updates and dedicating certain times to give comprehensive reviews on safety protocols, teachers and staff can ensure that the student body has full awareness on how their safety might be at stake and ways to protect themselves in extreme situations. Students should be kept informed as to the true nature of the drills in which they participate, and more direct communication on the part of administrators can both reduce flippant attitudes among students and contribute to an overall sense of safety at Stuyvesant.