In the aftermath of the awful massacre in Texas and a seemingly endless cycle of school shootings, Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell has announced that the county will earmark $2 million for the Sheriff's Department to work with the Department of Social Services and Putnam's six school districts to protect schools in Putnam County.
The funding will come from the $19.1 million the county received from the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA.
"We need to acknowledge that school shootings can happen anywhere, even in Putnam, the safest county in the state, and we need to prepare in order to prevent a tragic event from occurring here," County Executive Odell said. "Our schools are the biggest employers in Putnam County and our children, of course, are our most precious resource. There is no better use for ARPA money than to protect our schools and find ways to identify and help students who might be experiencing a mental health crisis before it's too late."
The effort, called "Team Up for School Safety," will start with Sheriff Kevin J. McConville and Department of Social Services and Mental Health Director Michael J. Piazza Jr. working with school superintendents countywide to identify what is already in place and which gaps districts might need to fill.
"The safety and security of our students, faculty, and administrators is of fundamental importance to the Putnam County Sheriff's Office and its members," Sheriff McConville said. "There is an undeniable and increasing prevalence of emergency situations in schools, and there is an increasing severity of school violence. Since Columbine, which occurred in 1999, there have been over 287 school shootings. The ability to utilize funds to provide a critical review and assessment of our schools, safety programs, and intervention procedures will assist with mitigation. A fresh appraisal of emergency management plans, preparedness and response actions will assist law enforcement, while working with Mental Health professionals to provide services for those affected, will work towards that goal."
Among the first items the team expects to review is technology, to ensure that the technology in every school syncs with the county's Bureau of Emergency Services, the Sheriff's Department and all local law enforcement agencies.
After the shootings in Uvalde, Texas, the Putnam County Sheriff's Department, State Police and local law enforcement established a greater and highly visible presence in schools throughout the county to act as a deterrent to any copycats.
In late May, the Sheriff's Department's social media monitoring team, acting on information provided by a teenager, found a student's social media posts threatening violence against Putnam Valley schools and intervened before any tragedy occurred.
"The utilization of technology and personal relationships will further serve to protect our school children," McConville said. "County Executive Odell has created a framework for law enforcement, mental health professionals and parents to ensure that happens."
"As an educational agency serving students from kindergarten through age 21, Putnam Northern Westchester BOCES shares the county's concerns about school safety and welcomes any and all efforts by the County Sheriff's Department and Department of Health to safeguard the students in our region," said Louis Riolo, assistant superintendent for PNW BOCES.
The county has already pledged to share some of the ARPA funds it has received with the local municipalities to get more projects done.
Legislator Ginny Nacerino, chair of the Protective Services Committee, said the Team Up for School Safety effort would provide the planning and organizational structure necessary to prevent school violence before it happens.
"It is hard to overstate the value of planning ahead," Legislator Nacerino said. "Having a structure in place, just like County Executive Odell's ICS Team in the Emergency Operations Center, is essential to protecting our residents from whatever may come our way."