NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- As New York City's public school students get ready to head back to class on Thursday, city officials are focused on security in what is expected to be the most normal academic year since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Locking the front doors is being studied as a way to increase in safety, following an assessment of school security over the summer.
"We have been exploring, for months now, various options that will allow us to even actually lock the front doors," Schools Chancellor David Banks said. "We are absolutely looking at the issue around the front doors themselves."
Banks said many students see schools as their safe place and sometimes run to the buildings for help, but there are challenges to locking the doors to outsiders.
Locking front doors would require a camera system so that safety agents could see who was at the door and buzz them in, a big infrastructure upgrade for many schools.
Most doors, other than front entrances in city public schools, are already locked and alarmed.
Another concern is weapons.
"We have been alarmed by the amount of weapons brought into our schools, more than we've seen in the past," Banks said. "We see it as a direct correlation to what the students are feeling outside of our schools. They have not been bringing these weapons in to do harm to their classmates."
Gun detectors that are less invasive than metal detectors are still not ready for schools, and one drawback is that the machines are not able to detect other weapons -- like knives or brass knuckles -- that are frequently being brought by students for protection.
"If they have a knife or razors or brass knuckles or anything else, which we have a lot more issues with those kinds of weapons than we do with guns, the technology has not been developed yet that allows you to see everything," Banks said.
Banks also rolled out safety announcements for the new year, including hiring additional school safety agents, more active shooter trainings, and setting up real time push alerts for principals to reach parents about lockdowns and emergencies.
The city described them as follows, in a press release:
--Hiring Additional School Safety Agents: School Safety Agents are critical members of the school community and are often the first, friendly face that greets students and families at the school door. They are vital partners in keeping our schools safe. In partnership with the NYPD, a newly graduated class of approximately 200 school safety agents will enter our schools on the first day of school. Additionally, a new class of 150 agents will begin training in September, followed by a class of 250 in January 2023 and again in May 2023.
--Increased Real-Time Family Push Communications: As announced earlier this year, beginning this school year, principals will now have access to the Grades, Attendance and Messaging platforms, which will allow schools to communicate with staff and families in multiple languages in real-time regarding updates to the school, closings, and in the case of an emergency, including providing timely updates regarding lockdowns, shelter-ins, or evacuations.
--Enhanced Safety Trainings: In collaboration with the NYPD School Safety Division and Louisiana State University, the DOE is facilitating enhanced training in emergency readiness for school principals, assistant principals, and building response team leaders, as well as early childhood providers. This includes active shooter trainings and active threat exercises which were held throughout the summer. This is in addition to our ongoing robust emergency readiness supports, which are available to all schools and educators.
--Comprehensive City-Wide Safety Assessment: This summer, the Division of School Facilities conducted a survey of 1,400 buildings to assess the functionality of classroom door locksets, exterior door locks, intrusion alarms, office door locksets, panic buttons, door alarms, and public address (PA) systems. They identified 1,300 issues across all schools and is working to address every one by the first day of school.