On January 14, South Orangetown Central School District hosted its second workshop of a three-part series for parents and guardians of students in grades K-12 about emergency preparedness and safety procedures. Emergency communications was the focus of Monday’s workshop, which was presented by Executive Director of Finance and Management Services Alicia Koster, Director of Special Education and Pupil Personnel Service Karen Tesik, Director of Technology George Brady and Communications Specialist Jen Citrolo.
Presenters emphasized that safety of students and staff is the district’s first priority and that it is critically important that school leaders and safety personnel are able to respond quickly in any emergency situation. “Schools are required to investigate any and all threats,” explained Mr. Brady. “Thankfully, most are quickly determined to be hoaxes and schools return to normal operations in short order. However, other circumstances, such a water main break or loss of electrical power, also impact school operations and may require action.”
When managing emergency situations, the district follows a set of procedures and protocols in partnership with local law enforcement and first responders. Parents were urged to rely only on official sources — SOCSD administrators, SOCSD communications tools (SchoolMessenger emails and robocalls, socsd.org), and law enforcement — for information in the event of a school emergency.
“We understand that even minor school incidents can be stressful for parents and that waiting for information is difficult,” said Ms. Citrolo. “But we all share the same goal: To keep our students and staff safe. So we need to work as a team.”
Here’s what parents can expect:
- Parents and guardians will be notified via SchoolMessenger email when their child’s school is managing an incident and no parent action is required. Parents should wait for further information from the district.
- If a situation requires a school to dismiss early or evacuate students, SchoolMessenger robocalls will be sent to all primary and emergency contact numbers for students in that building. Detailed information will be provided in the call. Emails will also be sent to primary and emergency contact email addresses on file.
Superintendent Robert Pritchard emphasized that the school district makes every effort to communicate with parents as quickly and completely as possible, while meeting privacy and legal obligations. “We want to communicate with you as soon as we possibly can,” said Dr. Pritchard. “But it’s critically important that we ensure that the information we share is both as accurate and as timely as possible.”
As important partners in supporting the district’s emergency response, parents and guardians are asked to:
- Ensure that updated primary and emergency contact information is on file with their children’s schools.
- Add “[email protected]” to their email contacts and designate the email address as a “trusted” or “safe” sender.
- Have a family emergency plan in place that they practice regularly with their children.
- Rely on official school district and law enforcement channels only. The spread of misinformation makes emergency management more difficult for our schools.
- Wait for information and not rush to an active incident site unless notified by official school district or law enforcement sources to do so.
- Protect the safety of students and staff by not sharing information regarding school safety procedures or emergency protocols on social media.
Parents and community members were also asked to take an active role in reporting threats about self-harm or harming others to key resources available 24/7. “Do not send an email to the school and wait for someone to get back to you,” Dr. Tesik said. “Call the Behavioral Health Resource Team (845-517-0400), call Orangetown Police Department or call the national school violence hotline (1-866-SPEAK-UP).
Following the presentation, the district team fielded questions from parents about building-level training and preparation for potential emergency situations. Ms. Koster noted that an analysis of the district-wide emergency management system is underway and that work is being done with buildings to develop standardized K-12 lessons for district-wide rollout and implementation next school year. At the same time, the district team is preparing to expand opportunities to hold parent workshops on a variety of safety related topics next year. “It is critically important for the safety and well-being of our students, staff, and community, for the district to take a comprehensive approach to emergency management,” Ms. Koster said. She further noted that “training and a common understanding of why and how we are preparing for all types of potential emergency situations is essential.”
Parents are encouraged to reach out to their children’s schools for support if their child is unusually anxious, withdrawn or quiet after an incident or school drill.
For additional information and resources, click here to view the Emergency Response page on the district website. A link to the page is posted on the district homepage at socsd.org under Quick Links.