Elected officials, educators, local leaders, students, law enforcement agents and mental health experts were on hand for the first meeting of the newly formed Westchester County School Safety Commission.
Westchester County Anthony Scarpino, Jr., formed the Commission over the summer with the goal of “implementing the best practices in safety evaluation and procedures in schools of all levels throughout Westchester County to keep students safe in the event of a credible threat or violent incident.”
Scarpino said that the thought of a possible violent incident at a Westchester school “keeps him up at night.”
“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,” Scarpino said in his opening remarks.
“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.”
At the inaugural meeting of the minds, Scarpino renewed his efforts in calling on New York State Legislature to pass the Extreme Risk Protection Order bill, which would empower community members to report concerns about people in crisis, giving local law enforcement and the legal system a way to temporarily take weapons out of the hands of someone who may harm themselves or those around them.
First formed in August, the members of the WSSC have been assigned to committees, which will work on specific research and reporting. Those committees include “Crisis Management,” and “Threat Prevention and Intervention.”
Scarpino said the two will “collaborate on the best way 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.” The Commission’s first report is expected by the end of the academic year.
At their first meeting - dates of other scheduled meetings will be announced at a later date - the Commission saw four presentations that included an active shooters, hosted by an advisor for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; school resource officer training; mental health training and a presentation on student health and education privacy laws by a prominent White Plains attorney.
“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," Westchester County Executive George Latimer said. "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.”
The District Attorney added that “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.”
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