Binghamton High School drastically expanded security measures. Has it made the school safer?
It’s been nearly a year since Binghamton High School installed metal detectors, hired a private security firm and instituted regular backpack checks in an attempt to address a spate of student conflicts last year.
Hired security guards direct students through metal detectors and scan their backpacks at the school’s main entrance. The school also installed new cameras that capture facial imagery if students or staff use an alternative entrance.
Soon, district leaders will have to decide if they’re going to continue the program, including a possible contract renewal with the private security firm, Southern Tier Security.
Some of the money for certain upgrades, like the cameras, came from federal COVID-19 relief funds and are considered a one-time expense.
A district spokesperson said the high school’s administrators are looking at how those security measures have affected safety and student behavior. That data will be publicly available in late December or early January.
The district installed most of the new security measures in the days after students set a small fire in a restroom. Immediately after the building was evacuated, a serious fight broke out in front of the school.
In the beginning, some parents and teachers praised the new security measures. But others worried students of color would be singled out.
State data shows Binghamton High School is one of the most diverse schools in the Southern Tier. Fifty-seven percent of students there are people of color.
State data from the fall 2017 school year showed Black students, in particular, received a disproportionate amount of disciplinary action at Binghamton High School. Black students make up only 30% of the student body, but received 43% of all suspensions.
Black students at Binghamton were also more likely to be suspended from classes for longer periods of time. The average time spent in suspension for Black students was about double the average for white students.
Kenny Nguyen works with the New York Civil Liberties Union Education Policy Center. He said school security systems might help some students feel safer, but they can also have negative effects on others.
"Black and Latinx students, LGBTQ students, students with disabilities, low-income students, immigrant students... are disproportionately impacted by the presence of police or any kind of harsh disciplinary measures," Nguyen said.
Nguyen said even something like facial recognition software used in security cameras can perpetuate racial disparities already present in the school setting. Facial recognition software more frequently misidentifies younger people, particularly if they are not white. Nguyen said those mistakes can lead to students being punished for things they may not have done.
Binghamton High School Principal Kevin Richman said the school has also supplemented the security upgrades with other strategies, like training teachers to de-escalate conflicts and offering more opportunities for "social-emotional learning" across all grade levels.