The Newburgh Enlarged City School District has many systems in place to guard against a safety threat. That was the message that came out of a forum on school safety held at Newburgh Free Academy last Tuesday.
“What are schools doing, what are communities doing to offer the support to get someone the help that they need?” asked district Superintendent of Schools Roberto Padilla.
He asked the question about two weeks after a fatal shooting spree that took the lives of 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and a week following a scare involving a perceived threat made by an NFA student on YouTube.
The school district plans to launch an online incident reporter that will give students and the public the ability to anonymously report harassment, bullying and possible safety threats, Padilla said. The online tool is expected to be available on the district website later this month. “We have people in our community who don’t feel safe but want to report something and want to do it in a way where there is no retaliation, where they’re not called a rat or a snitch,” Padilla explained.
Town of Newburgh Supervisor Gil Piaquadio and several local officials took part in the forum. Piaquadio spoke directly to parents. “I can’t imagine the fear you’re going through,” he said. “I’ve worked in many school districts with security systems…the Newburgh Enlarged City School District has always been very proactive, I would say the most proactive in the county,” Piaquadio assured parents.
There are more than 600 security cameras already in place in district schools, Padilla said. “We’re looking to upgrade those pieces of equipment and install even more,” he said.
Safety drills are performed, announced and unannounced, on a regular basis in district schools, he said. Metal detectors are in place at all district high schools and middle schools, except Temple Hill Academy and Meadow Hill School, he said. A plan is in place to have detectors installed at both schools sometime this month.
Last week, the New York State Senate passed legislation to improve student safety. According to the Senate, the bills increase funding for security personnel, infrastructure and school-based mental health services. The bill package also increases penalties for crimes on school grounds.
Mental health services are a key part of ensuring school safety, Padilla said. “We recognized that and committed to allocating close to $1 million of extra support for that purpose,” Padilla said, speaking about state Community Schools funding.
Lynne Pampel, the district’s director of pupil personnel services, explained that in an acute, mental-health crisis, a district student can be sent for Intensive Day Treatment. “This is a 30-day program where we can observe the child more closely, we can work with a psychiatrist,” she said. “They can make recommendations as to whether or not the child can come back to school. Many times, we use this for a student who has come out of some kind of psychiatric placement.”
But, gaps in the system remain, Newburgh City Manager Michael Ciaravino said. “Many of the gaps we’ve identified are legal barriers enabling the degree to which a school system can disclose confidential medical or psychological information regarding at-risk students,” he said, and the city will look into the possibility of parents authorizing schools to share this information with emergency responders.
“As a district, we have considered the latest technology that would assist us in securing our buildings better,” Padilla said, including a phone system that enables call recording. “This is something a lot of districts are moving toward… because of the constant threats that we receive via telephone and threats of a bomb taking place.” These upgrades would be paid for with Smart Schools funding from the state. “We haven’t received all of the money yet,” Padilla pointed out.
Another goal is to require ID for all district staff and scanned IDs for building visitors. “If they don’t register, how are we supposed to know,” asked district parent Dawn Washburn, expressing concern about possible sex offenders trespassing on school property.
Possibly through an enhanced screening process, responded New Windsor Police Lieutenant Rob Doss. “What are they there for?” he said, posing a question to ask before allowing a person entrance into a school. “Maybe that school has someone who can escort guests through the building.”
“What kind of training is available for teachers if (security) has been breached?” asked Newburgh Board of Education member William Walker. The Orange County Sheriff’s Office offers free building-security assessments and active-shooter training, said county Commissioner of Emergency Services Brendan Casey. “That is a resource that is available on a county level,” he said.
Following the Parkland shooting, Casey said, Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus asked the county Police Advisory Board for recommendations. “The Police Advisory Board is recommending armed personnel in the schools,” Casey said. “It might be a little controversial,” he admitted.
“The City of Newburgh Police Department is already in a good place as far as being responsive and effective when it comes to dealing with school violence,” said the city’s new Police Chief Doug Solomon. He, Padilla and Ciaravino met immediately following the YouTube scare to work on establishing a “set of protocols” to investigate threats of violence to the school district, he said.
“I want to reassure you, we’re having daily discussions,” he said. “We always have to be thinking ahead, ‘What can we do better?’ …I assure you, that’s what we’re going to be doing.”
By SHANTAL RILEY