After Terror Attack, Some PS 89 Parents Call for Beefed Up Security

The entrance to PS 89 and IS 289 at Warren and West streets. Many school families were up close to the events of Oct. 31 when a terrorist's rented truck crashed into a school bus before he was shot and captured by police. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Dec. 05, 2017

Still unnerved by the terror attack that came to a horrifying end outside the yard of their children’s school, PS 89 parents are imploring city authorities to beef up the building’s security.

Last week, a newly formed parent security committee from the school aired their concerns with the precinct’s two top officers at a recent meeting of the 1st Precinct Community Council.

Ellen Jalkut, a past PTA president, thanked the police for their actions following the Oct. 31 attack and for an added patrol presence during drop-off and pick-up times in the days since then. But, she noted, “We do have concerns about some of the vulnerabilities around the school, being the location on the highway and a high profile, targeted area.”

“The level of security and police presence at that building, which was involved on 9/11 and obviously involved on 10/31 is just lacking as compared to any other structure in the neighborhood of any profile,” said Jared LaCorte, who pointed to the heavy presence of security around nearby Goldman Sachs and Brookfield Place.

“I would love to have a patrol cop at every school but we have 56 schools,” said Dep. Inspector Marc Iocco, the 1st Precinct’s commanding officer. “I don’t even have 56 cops at any given time.” But Iocco offered a “directed patrol” of the school, “where you see cops getting out, going inside for a few minutes, making sure everything is alright. We can increase that.”

LaCorte argued that, given the precinct’s limited resources, the parents should be allowed to hire their own off-duty NYPD officers, like those that stand outside Goldman Sachs. “We would form our own private company, Parents for Concerned Safety at PS 89 LLC, and we’ll pay for a paid detail officer. We’d be willing to do that and then we’re being told, no, you can’t do that.”

A Department of Education spokeswoman said in a statement that the NYPD’s School Safety Division is the only entity authorized to provide safety services to the city’s public schools. “In partnership with NYPD, we ensure all School Safety Agents are rigorously trained on protocols and procedures in our schools citywide,” she said, adding that an additional officer is present at the school when children enter and are dismissed.

Asked for her position on additional security at the school, Principal Ronnie Najjar told the Trib in an email that her responsibility is to follow the DOE’s directives on school safety. “I expect that any changes in our protocol would be relayed to me through the Chancellor,” she said. Najjar added that within days of the attack, the school had begun to care for the psychological needs for the many families who had witnessed the attack. “The best way I can support them and their children is by providing a variety of counseling services,” she said.

There is also the issue of equity, said Gene Schatz, the 1st Precinct’s Community Affairs officer. “It would look awful, because you have the wherewithal to do that,” Schatz told the parents. “The rich kids’ school get the cops. I’m just saying what the optics would be.”

Not all schools have the same safety concerns, LaCorte argued. “The same reason why we don’t have metal detectors at PS 89, we don’t have high school students who are armed.”

But other Lower Manhattan schools do have worries, said Sarah El Batanouny, a Spruce Street School parent. “All the schools Downtown are having the same conversation because of the proximity to everything,” she said at the precinct council meeting, citing the parking garage beneath her school among other concerns. “So it’s a bigger discussion.”

It was a discussion at the Peck Slip School even before the attacks on Oct. 31 as parents worried about recess on the school’s newly authorized play street, which opened this fall. Double layers of police barriers blocked each end of the street. Then came the truck rampage on Halloween and now parked cars reinforce those barriers, with parents hoping for permanent bollards to be installed in the future.

In front of PS/IS 276 in the southern end of Battery Park City, there are now stone blocks at one end of the sidewalk. “It is a start,” said Tammy Meltzer, a parent at the school. “Not a comprehensive solution.”

“Unfortunately we didn’t plan our schools for people using cars as weapons,” said Tricia Joyce, chair of CB1’s Youth and Education Committee. “But it looks like we’re going to have to.”