South Orangetown Central School District

On December 17, the Family Engagement Center hosted “District Emergency Preparedness Procedures & Building a Family Emergency Plan,” an informative workshop for South Orangetown Central School District parents and guardians.

The session was the first of a three-workshop series scheduled for the 2018-19 school and was co-facilitated by Executive Director of Finance and Management Services Alicia Koster and Director of Pupil Personnel Services Dr. Karen Tesik. Speakers also included Superintendent Dr. Robert Pritchard, Orangetown Police Department School Resource Officers Andrew Vergine (SOCSD) and Mike Taylor (Pearl River), Orangetown Police Department Captain Don Butterworth and Rockland BOCES Health, Safety & Security Coordinator John Gulino.

Workshop discussion covered New York State requirements for school district safety plans and drills. In addition to the state requirements, each of the district’s four schools conduct a minimum of two tabletop drills annually in partnership with Rockland BOCES. These exercises are used to evaluate how the administrative team would troubleshoot a surprise emergency scenario.

The New York State Emergency Response Procedures (SHELL) were described in detail, as were some of the safety features currently in place throughout the district. “We’ve been doing a careful analysis of safety procedures: plans, training, communicating–everything. As a district safety team, we are always looking for ways to continuously improve- plan more, train more,” explained Ms. Koster. “With knowledge, we learn, we tweak and we develop new procedures.”

Students and parents also play a key role in emergency prevention, the speakers noted. “If you see something, say something. If you see something that is a threat of violence, immediately report to law enforcement,” Dr. Tesik emphasized. “We’re all in this together. As a community, we all own this. I’m really asking for your support. If your child comes to you and shows you something unnerving, don’t wait for someone else to report–do it yourself.”

“And don’t wait until tomorrow to call school,” urged Officer Vergine, who works in-district five days a week. “Call 911 or 359-3700. That’s why we’re here, this is what we do. We can start rolling immediately to prevent someone from harming themselves or others. Our main concern is the safety of your children.”

Not sure when to report? Refer to page 16 of the District-Wide School Safety Plan, Appendix 3: – The Early Detection of Potentially Violent Behaviors, A Guide for Families and Communities.

Families should also have a plan in place in the event of a school emergency or unexpected closure. Here are some important things to consider:

  • Make sure that your children’s schools have up-to-date emergency contact information on file
  • Middle and high school parents, check the Parent Portal to make sure that your contact information is accurate
  • All younger students should know their parents’ full name, their phone number, their address and how to call 911
  • Find a neighbor you can trust that your child can go to in an emergency

Parents of older students are encouraged to have an “X-Plan.” Pick an emergency text word that only you and your child know and that they can use to signal that they need your help to get out of an unsafe situation. Read more about the X-Plan on the TODAY Parenting Team blog.

Need help with creating a family emergency plan? Contact Family Engagement Center Coordinator AJ Walker at [email protected] or (845) 680-1059.

Families may access information and resources on the district’s new Emergency Response webpage, linked on the SOCSD homepage under Quick Links. Additional information will be added as the administrative team moves forward with evaluating and refining district-wide safety procedures and emergency protocols.

In the meantime, here are answers to two important questions that arose during Monday’s meeting:

Q: How are students encouraged to report threats or concerns?
A: At the start of each school year, all schools participate in a district-wide Help Card campaign which aims to decrease the stigma of asking for help. Students view a brief video introduction and are provided with their own Help Card with a list of administrators and staff in their school that they can turn to when they need help.

In addition, SOCSD expanded its supports for students with the launch of Anonymous Alerts in March 2018. Anonymous Alerts is a free app to report incidents of bullying, cyberbullying, harassment, hazing, drug or alcohol use during school, and/or vaping or Juuling during school hours. Learn more about Anonymous Alerts here.

Q: How serious do you take information about a student who may be a risk to themselves or others?
A: Any reports of suicidal ideation or threats of violence must immediately be reported to the school principal. Our School Counseling team works collaboratively with our administration team to assess the threat and the needs of the student. When appropriate, law enforcement and/or mental health resources including Rockland County Behavioral Health Response Team (BHRT) or hospitals are also called upon to address these incidents.

It is critically important that as a community we all work together. If you become aware of a student in crisis who is threatening suicide or violence, you must call the school (if during school hours) or Orangetown Police Department at (845) 359-3700 or 911 immediately. Time is critically important when responding and these reports should not be emailed or sent through the Anonymous Alert system.

If your child is the student in danger, take your child to the nearest emergency room or call the BHRT Crisis Line at (845) 517-0400 or 911 for assistance.