Melbourne Avenue exit now off limits to all

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Students recently discovered that they are now restricted from using the side door of the school building facing Melbourne Avenue, a policy enacted for safety reasons.

“There are only three safety agents assigned to our school and in the past we have had four,” said Ellen Fee, Assistant Principal of Organization, Health & Physical Education. Because of this, the door facing Melbourne was difficult to watch over. School safety agents would have had to keep an eye on all three entrances as well as on the students throughout the school day, potentially leaving room for people to enter and exit unauthorized.

School Safety Agent Paulette Ramsey explained that last May, a few juniors left the building during the school day without permission. She mentioned that one parent even called the school when they saw their child at home at an unusual time.

Ms. Ramsey said that anything could have happened to the students, and that these new restrictions are “all for [our] safety.”

Last June, a senior also allowed a non-Harrisite into the building without permission. Although these situations weren’t threatening, Ms. Ramsey mentioned that that might not always be the case.

Because of this occurrence, among other similar events towards the end of last year, all students and staff must leave through the other two doors.

“Whenever somebody – students or visitors – go through that door without realizing it stays open, anybody can come inside and go upstairs,” School Safety Agent Sandra Bernard explained.

Now, the only exit students may use is the main door leading onto Main Street. Students who normally exited through the side door, which was closer to certain buses, are now limited to the main door.

“The situation is not much of a situation at all except after school hours when the main lobby is crowded,” said Senior Carlos Abbario who rides the Q64 bus on Jewel Avenue.

Despite any complaints, Ms. Fee said that “unfortunately we live in a day and age where we have to worry about intruders coming in.”

Indeed, for the past two years at THHS, students and teachers have had to take part in “lockdown” drills in order to be ready for dangerous intruders entering the building without authorization.

There are two kinds of these drills. Soft lockdown drills are meant to prepare for situations where an intruder enters the building but there is no imminent danger to the school.

Hard lockdown drills are meant to prepare community members for events where an intruder is armed and intends to commit harm.

In addition to continuing to run drills for such events, Ms. Fee also stated that the school will be receiving a new safety agent in the near future. She then mentioned a push among the administration to get security cameras throughout the school. Until then, the door will not be in use other than in fire drills and emergencies.

The issue of ensuring that students remain safely in school and do not enter or exit the school building without authorization has been in the news since the death of Avonte Oquendo, a Queens student with autism.

Oquendo went missing after he left school without authorization last October 4. His  body was found three months after his disappearance in the beach by College point.

Oquendo’s mother filed a wrongful death suit against the city of New York earlier in the summer.  The lawsuit places blame on city officials, DOE officials, the principal of the school and safety agents.