Parents Ask for More Security and Stricter Rules at High School

East Hampton High School students have been using e-cigarettes in bathrooms, a group of parents told the school board at a recent meeting. Christine Sampson

With issues that dominated conversation at East Hampton School Board meetings during 2017 — the site of a new school bus depot, for instance, and the lack of a football team — now largely off the table, the board and administration were asked to turn their attention to three other areas of concern: drugs in the schools, the security of the buildings, and a seemingly lax dress code.

Walter Quiroz, a parent at East Hampton High School, raised these issues in a letter addressed to the school board that he read in Spanish during last Tuesday’s  meeting. The letter was then translated to English by Elizabeth Reveiz, the school’s director of English as a new language. The letter was written on behalf of several parents who asked the school board and the administration to implement new policies and plans wherever possible.

“We have a few concerns regarding drugs at our school, the security of the buildings, and also the personal presentation of the students who attend our schools,” read Ms. Reveiz, on behalf of Mr. Quinoz. 

“Our children have shared with us their uneasiness about the use of electronic cigarettes in the bathrooms of the high school and middle school,” the letter stated. After outlining the pervasiveness of drugs at the school, the parent simply asked, “What is the plan the district is exploring to combat this problem?”

As for security of the school buildings, Mr. Quiroz wrote: “In the past few years, policies have been implemented to monitor who enters and leaves the buildings. We applaud you for that effort.” He was referring to the current policy that all visitors to the school’s buildings must present valid identification in order to gain entry. “Our worry, however, is that it does not guarantee that a student or a person cannot carry with them arms or weapons that can hurt others.”

Mr. Quiroz and the parents he represented asked the school board to make a commitment  to exploring and implementing another policy on security measures that will “guarantee or prohibit” weapons being taken into the school.

Security measures are a topic at the forefront of debate at many South Fork schools today. The issue was also raised during Monday’s work session of the Springs School Board, at which that school’s superintendent, Debra Winter, told members that the administration was investigating efforts to heighten their security measures around the campus. The group discussed installing additional cameras in the buildings as well as on school buses. Ms. Winter also urged the board to consider the purchase of a card reader that would scan driver’s licenses and state-issued identification cards to check them against lists of known criminals.

In East Hampton, the final issue outlined in Mr. Quiroz’s letter concerned the “inappropriate dress” of the students. He pointed out that although the dress code as outlined by the board of education hangs near the entrance to the high school, “it is clearly not being enforced.” He went on to say that while parents understand that teenagers often express their personalities through their clothing choices, the introduction of school uniforms might be something the board would want to consider. He said that he and like-minded friends believe uniforms would help with issues of sexual harassment and bullying. “Our object,” he wrote, “is to create an equal, inclusive, respectful, and safe environment.”

J.P. Foster, the school board’s president, responded to the letter by thanking Mr. Quiroz and the parents he represented for speaking up.

“These are all valid points” he said. “We share all the same concerns as you do as parents.” Mr. Foster acknowledged that “we’re trying to keep up with technology” as far as electronic smoking devices are concerned. The middle school recently held a forum for students, with a presentation by Ken Alversa, an East Hampton Town police officer, on the dangers of vaping and e-cigarettes. Still, Mr. Foster said, “We need to do more.”

Adam Fine, the high school principal, also responded to Mr. Quiroz’s concern about drug use at the school and informed those in the room that talks are underway with town officials and other East End school superintendents to set up a task force to deal with substance abuse problems. He called it “a community problem.”

The board acknowledged that students’ clothing was a topic that had arisen in the past, and that opinions were usually split about whether to adopt a uniform. 

“Maybe we can start,” said Jacqueline Lowey, a board member, “with a reminder that there is a dress code.”

In conclusion, Mr. Foster commended Mr. Quiroz for attending the meeting and sharing his concerns. “Honestly, you are the first parents who have stepped up to the plate — if we don’t hear from areas of our community, we don’t always know what’s going on.” Along with other board members, he promised Mr. Quiroz that they would consider holding meetings for a free exchange of ideas on how to deal with these issues.