With the school year underway, Westchester County District Attorney Anthony A. Scarpino, Jr. kicked off the first meeting of the Westchester County School Safety Commission (WSSC). In attendance were Deputy County Executive Ken Jenkins and leaders representing schools, students, educators, mental health experts and law enforcement throughout Westchester County. The Commission has been formed in collaboration with County Executive George Latimer.
The mission of the WSSC is to implement best practices in safety evaluation and procedures in schools of all levels throughout Westchester County to keep our students safe in the event of a credible threat or violent incident. A primary focus is to increase and enhance communication and cooperation between schools and local law enforcement, and issue guidelines for countywide protocols.
In his opening remarks, DA Scarpino said: “This is what keeps me up at night--What happens when someone bent on violence enters one of our schools?” And in light of that, he told the commission what he would like it to accomplish: “The State already mandates that each public school and BOCES file annual updated building-level Emergency Response Plans. Part of our agenda is to explore how those individual plans can be incorporated into countywide responsiveness. And that ties in with the greater mission of this Commission: to create a program of consistent protocols in response to threats or emergencies in any building, on any campus-public or private; and appropriate training and understanding for all stakeholders including students, parents and community members.”
DA Scarpino also renewed his call for the State Legislature to pass the Extreme Risk Protection Order bill, or so-called Red Flag Law, that empowers community members to report concerns about people in crisis, and give law enforcement and the legal system a way to temporarily take weapons out the hands of someone who may harm themselves or others.
As part of the kickoff, several attendees gave presentations on key area of concerns:
- “Active Shooter” presentation by Joe Tadrick, Protective Security Advisor, US Dept. of Homeland Security, Office of Infrastructure Protection.
- School Resource Officers training presentation (SRO) by Sergeant Amery Bernhardt of the Westchester County Department of Public Safety
- Mental Health training and services presentation by Commissioner Michael Orth, Westchester County Department of Public Health.
- Presentation on student health and education privacy laws (FERPA/HIPAA) by Attorney Adrienne Arkontaky, V.P./Managing Attorney at Cuddy Law Firm, White Plains
The members of WSSC are assigned to committees to work on specific research and reporting. The two committees are “Crisis Management” and “Threat Prevention and Intervention.” They will collaborate on how to evaluate and secure buildings in advance of and during an incident; how to communicate with law enforcement, other facilities, families and students before, during and after an incident; learn awareness about the red flags that a person in crisis may be exhibiting; and train teachers, staff and volunteers in these best practices. Dates for future meetings are pending. The WSSC expects to release a report by the end of the 2018-2019 school year.
County Executive Latimer said of the Commission: “As Westchester school children head back for the beginning of the year, County officials are continually working to ensure the safety of all of our schools. This Commission, a joint effort between my Administration and DA Scarpino, is tasked with finding solutions which meet the needs of all parties involved by both keeping our children safe while also making sure schools are places where our kids feel at ease and can focus on learning. That is why these efforts and those undertaken by our County Police, including constantly working to be prepared through communication and training for any type of horrific incident, are so important. I look forward to many positive meetings like the one we held today.”
Scarpino reminded the gathering that the School Safety Commission supports the District Attorney’s mission to create a safer community. “By bringing together a group of stakeholders with the knowledge, expertise and communications skills to develop protocols focused on keeping our schools safe places for teaching and learning, we will be better positioned to respond to and take a more proactive approach to possible threats in the future.”