Scarice, Koskinas Seek School Security Upgrades

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice and Police Chief Foti Koskinas have an excellent working relationship.

They share a key goal: keeping every Westport student and staff member safe, from before the start of the school day to the end of the final extracurricular activity.

But Staples High School is a sprawling, 500,000-square foot building. Cell service is spotty. In an emergency, 911 is not always an instant call away.

The enormous Staples High School campus. (Drone photo/Brandon Malin)

Thanks to a collaboration between Scarice and Koskinas. that may soon change.

This Wednesday (August 23, 7:30 p.m., Town Hall auditorium), Scarice will ask the Board of Finance for $630,000. The funds are for an enhanced security communications system, adding to the current capability to contact emergency services.

In addition, Koskinas will request $432,063. That money would pay for 3 officers to patrol 3 campuses: Coleytown Middle/Coleytown Elementary School; Kings Highway/Saugatuck Elementary; and Long Lots/Greens Farms Elementary. One officer already patrols the Staples/Bedford Middle School campus.

The officers would help with traffic, unwelcome visitors and similar issues. They would enter the schools only for emergencies.

Scarice is excited by the potential for vastly enhanced security — including the “Campus Shield” system he is proposing for Staples.

It uses radio frequency, the same system utilized by the military and first responders. (In the recent Maui wildfires, that was the only means of communication when cell service went down.)

A 1-inch by 1 -inch fob attaches to a staff member’s identification lanyard. In the event of any 911 emergency — a violent intruder, say, or a health issue — the staffer would press the fob for 2 seconds.

Within 5 seconds — and with unfailing reliability — the emergency dispatch center is notified.

A screen shows the name and profile of the faculty member, and the exact location in the building the call comes from. The nearest security camera is activated, showing the dispatch center exactly what is happening.

Every staff member with a lanyard — administrators, teachers, paraprofessionals, secretaries, coaches — would have the security fob.

Scarice says, “this tool enhances our current communications capability by providing instant, unfailing access to emergency responders. It is my highest recommendation, in conjunction with the Chief’s increase in officers dedicated to our schools.

“What excites me most is that this tool uses the exact same method that first responders and the military use for communications: radio frequency. This elevates our capabilities to communicate in an unfailing manner with first responders, in the event a call is necessary.”

The Board of Education has already unanimously supported Scarice’s request. The $630,000 cost might be partially offset by a state grant.

If the Board of Finance gives its okay, the security plan would go to the Representative Town Meeting for final approval.

11 responses to “Scarice, Koskinas Seek School Security Upgrades

  1. Sherry & David Jonas

    We couldn’t be more in favor of the implementation of this technology at our high school. We wish it had been in place when our kids were there. We strongly encourage the BOF to approve this request.

  2. Stephanie Bass


  3. Beth Berkowitz

    What a wonderful safety tool! I truly hope it is passed by the boards and implemented as soon as possible! I hope it is so helpful that it can expand into all of the schools in westport and then nationwide! So many lives could be saved if this is used properly! Unfortunately, it wasn’t in place before Sandy Hook or Parkland. One of my closest friends’ daughter died at Parkland and she was the last one shot there! Her life could have been saved if they had this tool and had entered the building in the right place earlier!

  4. A.David Wunsch

    What does it say about life in America that such measures are necessary ?
    ADW Staples 1956

  5. Clark Thiemann

    While in the absence of everything else, the key fobs seem helpful, 600k is a lot of money (is there also an ongoing maintenance cost?) and in 99.9% of cases they seem redundant to cell and wifi service. I don’t know enough to be confident here, but I hope the BoF and RTM ask hard questions about this system rather than rubber stamp it out of deference to “security”.

  6. Let’s not be so fast to approve this…I don’t see this as being a prudent expenditure for our kids safety at this time. I am 100% in favor of extended police presence in and around all of our schools. Our K-5 children and faculty are just as vulnerable, if not more then those at Staples
    To spend 650K on a system that is not proven, and in none of our surrounding schools, should definitely raise the pause button on this expenditure.
    We have recently approved radio upgrades for our Fire Department in excess of over 400K. Why not look into this appropriation, and see if we can work this communication system into all our schools?
    The back story to how this approval happened, is not exactly the way this appropriation came to fruition.
    The Board of Education, without Our Police Chief or Fire Chief present, voted unanimously to move forward on the Communication System for Staples.
    I have great respect for our Superintendent Tom Scarise, and our BOE members. I think we all want the same end result when it comes to school safety.
    When we are talking 650K to spend on a school security, one would think our Police Chief would be the first person in the room for the discussion before the BOE vote?
    The good news is our Police Chief, BOE, and Superintendent are working collaboratively to make our schools safer for everyone. All discussions on school safety should always start with the Police Chief in the mix.
    I have many more questions I will ask at the BOF meeting on Wednesday. I hope many will attend with open mind, and look at the big picture. I look forward to our community engaging in a vibrant open discussion.
    The police funding for schools is a no brainer. As an RTM Member and Chair of RTM Public Protection Committee, I am 100 percent behind this appropriation.
    As for the Communications System for Staples only, let’s keep the dialogue going. Let’s hear from the Company, explain how it works, and Why? Let’s also hear from our Police and Fire Chiefs, on what communications we currently have in place, that perhaps integrate with our schools.
    I am not saying no to upgraded communications for our schools, I’m saying let’s make sure it’s the right appropriation, and right system. The safety of all our kids, teachers, and school employees throughout the district is of priority to all the stakeholders of our community.

    • Deb Rosenfield

      All good points, as are those from Joshua Stein. And, let me preface this by saying I am all for ensuring the safety of our kids.

      But, before even diving into the company that would be providing this super duper military grade service, perhaps it would be worthwhile for the powers-that-be in this town and in other towns in Fairfield County to call on cellular and cable service providers to find out why their signals to our towns are so lousy.

      On any given day, on the Westport Front Porch page on Facebook and even on the Greenwich town page, people are complaining about the total lack of cellular signal inside their homes. I live right off North Compo and as of about a year ago, the one or two bars I’d get on my cell phone while inside my house have completely disappeared, often now even showing ‘SOS.’ Yes, I hook into my wifi system in order to make/receive calls on my cell phone inside the house, but the point is: what has changed with cellular service in town and who can persuade the cellular companies to fix it.

      I called T-Mobile twice in the past six months and each time I spoke with a technical rep who traced the actual signal on my street. Twice I was told that, indeed, there is no signal reaching my house despite being only 1.3 miles from the nearest tower. Since I have no generator, in a power outage, I would have zero way to call. Which is why I still pay for a POTS Frontier line (the old copper line phone system). And, as pointed out above, my situation is not rare. It’s happening in the Coleytown area, it’s in the Cross Highway area, etc. Also, I was told by the T-Mobile tech guy that ‘there are no plans to fix this in the near future.’

      BTW, if I drive the 1/3rd mile to the Post Road, I get 4 solid bars on the cell phone, even if I’m inside CVS or other stores. So, my cellular service has become nothing more than a glorified car phone.

      Again, let’s make sure our kids are safe but at the same time, let’s find out why cellular companies, who boast about their 5G coverage, can’t seem to get signal to people inside their homes in this town or, apparently, to the high school. I would be wondering if this lack of cell service at the high school is also a due to a similar phenomenon (which seems to coincide with the exact time when T-Mobile took over Sprint and merged their systems).

      • its known why signals are lousy. some reasons: 1) dead spots due to topology, 2) neighbors resistance to new cell towers or small cells in their neighborhoods that would help (at one point the cell companies were funding many of these but have cut back due to push back and wifi calling which fixes the issue within homes), 3) newer 4g and 5g signals may not go as far as 1x, 2g, 3g signals used to depending on the band. some newer frequencies being used really struggle to penetrate. 4) overloaded towers where signal does reach but the radios / backhaul are maxed out.

    • Robert Harington

      Jimmy are you telling us our Chief of Police doesn’t support this? What is your solution for 911 access in our high school?

  7. joshua stein

    as a security professional, and in my personal opinion, please make sure the system is fully tested vetted and the vendor is guaranteeing it will work before getting full payment, and that it will be supported at a reasonable annual cost for at least a number of years until its obsolete. don’t be a guinea pig. send someone to another school system that bought it to check it out in real-time implementation. second, please instead consider adding a cellular extender system that brings cell signal into the building, or enable wifi calling throughout WiFi systems (issue might be e911 triangulation but technology is getting smarter).

  8. Robert Harrington (Board of Education member)

    As a sitting Board of Education member I am outraged that our request for essential security improvements has been withdrawn due to lack of support from the Board of Finance.

    I have stayed silent in public for the last 15 months as I have tried to improve the security at our High School through the proper channels and Executive Session. But this route is no longer an option.. I can no longer remain silent.

    I will have more to say on this matter tomorrow night at the Board of Finance meeting.