By Holly Crocco
Area parents who are troubled by, and fed up with acts of racism, violent threats, and other concerning behavior at local schools are pleading with lawmakers to step in before the unthinkable happens in their community.
“Your lack of concern is disturbing, and says quite a lot,” Linda Harris of Kent told Putnam County legislators at their April 4 meeting.
Several weeks ago, multiple videos appeared on social media that were apparently created by three Carmel High School students that used horrific racist language, simulated a school shooting and threatened other violence. While the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department and school district administration say the teens are being dealt with according to the district’s code of conduct, parents are frustrated by the lack of transparency and are demanding the students be expelled or arrested.
Since those videos surfaced, an arrest was made in Brewster when a former student reportedly threatened a juvenile at the school.
And just last week, Putnam Valley schools were victim to a “swatting” call – the false reporting of a serious law enforcement emergency, such as a bomb threat, hostage situation or homicide – as were many schools across the state.
“More than 50 school districts across New York have received disturbing 'swatting' threats,” stated Gov. Kathy Hochul on April 4. “I want to reassure parents that their children are safe at school. Swatting threats are false and intended to cause panic and scare students, teachers and families.”
However, parents want lawmakers to be more proactive.
“It has been nine weeks that our children have been victims of racist rants,” said Carmel parent Abigail Santana at last week’s Putnam County Legislature meeting.
However, when continuing to question lawmakers, Legislature Chairman Paul Jonke, R-Brewster, explained that public comment must only pertain to items on the agenda for the night’s meeting, and since the topic of school safety was not an agenda item, it was not appropriate to address the issue.
“This is not the time or place,” said Jonke, noting that the issue will be discussed at the April Protective Services Committee meeting, in two weeks.
“Why is this not the time or the place?” countered Santana. “Our children are not on your agenda?”
Legislator Ginny Nacerino asked the frustrated parents to respect the governing body’s process.
“I welcome anyone who wishes to speak at the April 17 Protective Services meeting,” she said. “Your voices will be heard. That’s the appropriate venue. We will not have our meeting get out of control. We ask that you respect our process and follow our rules, and that’s how it’s going to roll.”
Nacerino also said she and her colleagues were being unfairly attacked for trying to keep order. “Anyone who says we don’t support you and we don’t denounce racism is just spinning it,” she told parents.
Following the recent “swatting” incidents, Gov. Hochul directed the New York State Police to investigate the threats and work closely with all levels of law enforcement “to identify the perpetrators, hold them accountable, and restore the sense of safety and security our children deserve.”
Legislator Gill Gouldman, R-Putnam Valley, said he was impressed with the quick response from the sheriff’s department to the threat at the schools in his district.
“I am very confident because of the response that happened on Thursday, that if there was a situation like that anywhere in the county, it would be done very quickly and it would end very quickly,” he said.
Extra patrols were dispatched to schools throughout the county last week to ensure the safety of students and faculty.