By Patrick E. McCarthy
Four magnet high schools are situated on the grounds, located at 207-01 116th Ave., and together they make up a campus that accommodates some 2,200 students.
Neil Bluth, the principal in charge of facilities and safety at the campus, said the schools were a safe environment overall and noted that the campus was not on the list of 12 high schools, including Far Rockaway High School and Franklin K. Lane in Queens, that were cited by Bloomberg as violent.
“The reason those schools are on that list is because of the number of incidents,” Bluth said. “We are not even close to those numbers.”
Because the campus is not on the list, Bluth said the schools would not be receiving any additional security guards or police officers.
While the campus has not had as many cases of violence as the schools on the list, parents at the meeting still voiced their concerns over past incidents, including the recent setting of seven small fires within the campus. In particular, the parents pointed to two fires set on Dec. 9, which created a chaotic situation.
On the day in question, Bluth explained that a small fire was set in the trash can of a cafeteria, which resulted in the evacuation of the schools. After students returned to their classrooms, another small fire was set in a different trash can and prompted the schools' second evacuation of the day, he said.
During the second evacuation a snowball fight erupted and escalated into a melee, he said.
Bluth said 26 police officers responded to the scene and arrested five students for inciting a riot during an emergency situation. Those arrested were not suspected of setting the fires, he said. He stressed that there had been no injuries during any of the fires, which he thought were not a result of an orchestrated effort but rather a series of random acts of students copying one another.
While no one has been arrested for the Dec. 9 fires, Bluth said in a telephone interview this week that one boy had been arrested in conjunction with an earlier fire in a cafeteria. A girl was arrested for her alleged involvement in a more recent fire set in a girls' locker room, he said.
Bluth said that under Bloomberg's new security plan setting a fire constitutes a level five infraction, which means it automatically carries a suspension from the superintendent. Both students have been given a superintendent's suspension, Bluth said, and they both face a hearing with the city Department of Education to determine if they will be transferred.
“No official notification has been received by me,” Bluth told the meeting. “However, it's my understanding that they could also be transferred out of the school.”
If the suspects are transferred, Bluth pointed out that it would be the first time that the campus had transferred any student after a superintendent's suspension.
With the school not due to receive any additional security officers to augment the 16 it currently deploys, parents questioned whether the campus surveillance system was adequate enough for the spacious grounds.
Bluth said Campus Magnet High Schools had 55 television monitors located throughout the buildings. However, he said 15 of those were not in working condition and some of the remaining monitors are of such poor quality that nothing can be seen on them.
The Department of Education recently hired a company to look into fixing the antiquated system, but the company found it would be cheaper to replace the whole thing, Bluth said. Even then it would cost up to $250,000 for a new digital system, and Bluth said there were no immediate plans to do so and that such an operation would require funds from the capital budget process.
Bluth told the audience that added security measures would soon be implemented on the campus. Visitors now need an appointment and must show photo ID before passing an airport-type security check with a walk-through metal detector and a conveyor belt detector for bags. They will then be escorted to and from their destinations in the schools.
Bluth said the equipment was in place and that the checks would start Feb. 2.