Outraged and concerned parents, angered by a decision to open school two days after a terrorist threat was reported, confronted school district officials last week during the Valley Central School Board Meeting on Monday, June 13.
The packed house had parents fighting for the safety of their children in the wake of what many felt was poor judgment by Superintendent of Schools John Xanthis who was noticeably absent from the meeting, held inside a packed Berea Elementary School auditorium.
Though he wasn’t at the meeting, Xanthis released the following statement via social media:
“On Saturday, June 4th, we received a call that a threat was made via email to one of our schools. Over the weekend, we received information from several sources, including law enforcement, and based on that information I deemed the threat to be non-credible and felt there was no safety risk to students or staff. A message was sent out on Monday morning communicating this information.
Additional steps were taken by law enforcement on Monday morning to ensure student safety, but we acknowledge that we should have communicated this information to parents before their children arrived at school.”
Village of Montgomery Police Chief William Herlihy later told the Wallkill Valley Times that he did ask the district to cancel classes at Montgomery Elementary on Monday June 6, as the investigation was still underway by local law enforcement.
“We did not deem it a non-credible threat,” Herlihy said at the time the request was made.
On June 13 – one week later – the Village of Montgomery Police reported the arrest of an 11-year-old juvenile who was charged with Making a Terroristic Threat, a class D Felony, and Computer Trespass, a class E Felony. The juvenile was released on a family court appearance ticket and was released into parental custody pending an appearance at probation intake. Chief Herlihy confirmed that the juvenile arrested is a Valley Central student residing within the district.
The Wallkill Valley Times reached out to district officials regarding the threat and June 6th including the validity of accusations that teachers were asked to search their classrooms for suspicious packages that morning as well as Montgomery Elementary School students walking to the park for a field trip on the day in question, but the district did not respond to requests for comment as of press time.
During the June 13 Board of Education meeting, concerned parent Kristen McEvoy not only questioned the recent event but the placement of classrooms in buildings that were built well over 50 years ago, and asked the district to reevaluate the safety for students. “The adults of this community are failing our children. We have been failing our children. This does not fall solely on the current administration, the neglect of our schools when it pertains to safety and the lack of upgrades has been the result of decades of gross neglect, uninformed decisions and a lack of transparency,” said McEvoy.
She ended by asking the district to develop and release a plan that shows the public the steps they are willing to take to ensure the kids safety and make it transparent with parents.
Also in attendance at the meeting was Town of Montgomery Supervisor Brain Maher, who addressed the Board on his proposal to have Town of Montgomery officers at all schools starting in September. Supervisor Maher, along with Town of Montgomery Police Chief John Hank, shared that the plan would include East Coldenham Elementary School which is located in the Town of Newburgh jurisdiction if the proposal could be agreed upon by all municipalities and parties.
At the school board meeting was Montgomery Town Supervisor Brian Maher who proposed a plan to place additional police officers in the schools at all times. The plan was later discussed at the June 16 Montgomery Town Board meeting.
At the present time, only the Valley Central High School and Middle School have full-time school resource officers. There is no staffing available to replace them if they are off. The Town of Montgomery Police Department is working on a plan to staff every school within the district, including the East Coldenham Elementary School which is physically located in the Town of Newburgh. The plan, outlined by Officer Steve Ragni would be to hire 10 additional part-time officers to provide security in the elementary schools and the alternative learning center in Maybrook.
“Here’s the deal,” Ragni said. “We want an officer in the school, all day, every day, not to leave for 10 or 15 minutes. This puts an officer in the school all day, every day, during the school year. And we’re pretty confident we can staff it. We’re very confident we can staff it. Once we make the hires and just full staff each school.”
Maher estimated the additional police would cost $315,000, not counting the $70,000 in the Town of Montgomery General Fund that currently pays for the existing SROs.
“We want to hire the right people,” Maher said. “It’s not just about having a gun in a building or an officer in a building. The hope is to prevent (an incident) from happening.”
Maher said there would need to be an agreement drawn up between the Town of Montgomery and the school district as well as one with the Town of Newburgh for coverage of the East Coldenham School.
On Wednesday, June 15, 2022, district officials called a special meeting of the Board of Education with less than 24 hours notice. During the meeting, Board of Education President Joseph Bond made a motion to waive the policy of giving 24 hours notice and hold the meeting. The Board approved the motion and signed the waiver. The Board then went into an executive session that lasted for an hour before they came back and adjourned the meeting.
The Wallkill Valley Times reached out to Bond following the meeting to inquire about the need for a special meeting and why the need to have a waiver, Bond responded by saying, “Thank you for reaching out to the Board. All board meetings are posted publicly. The waiver you are inquiring about is a legal requirement pursuant to Section 1606 (3) of the Education Law. By signing, board members are waiving their right to having 24 hours notice prior to ordering a meeting.”