The Examiner

Changes Vowed for Mt. Pleasant’s Residential Treatment Centers

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More than 300 residents converged at a community forum at Mount Pleasant Town Hall last Monday demanding solutions to end the series of incidents that many in the crowd stated have been taking place for years at the Hawthorne Cedar Knolls High School campus on Linda Avenue and the Mount Pleasant Cottage School on Broadway in Pleasantville.

The meeting was arranged by Mark Soracino and the Coalition for a Safe Mount Pleasant prior to two separate incidents that resulted in the arrest of six Hawthorne Cedar Knolls High School residents on May 20 and 21.

“It’s something we should stay focused on as residents,” Soracino said.

Town Supervisor Carl Fulgenzi said he has been working with representatives of both facilities, Police Chief Paul Oliva and other law enforcement officials during the past year and with state Sen. Terrence Murphy (R-Yorktown) and his staff for the past few months to seek improvements.

“Our focus has been from the beginning has always been the safety of the students, staff, residents of the facilities and the residents of the Town of Mount Pleasant,” Fulgenzi said at last week’s meeting. “These facilities have been part of an ongoing discussion for many years, and unfortunately, based on recent actions at the facilities, it appears we have run out of time for discussions. We have received a lot of lip service with very little constructive results.”

The town board passed local legislation in February that enables the town to levy fines “for improper supervision,” Fulgenzi said. So far, there have been 12 violations, each carrying a potential $250 fine. The violations are still being adjudicated in court, he said.

Fines were created to draw attention to “an ongoing dangerous situation” and were not meant to raise additional revenue, he said.

“The town will no longer stand by as people housed in these facilities are continually subjected to life-threatening situations on and off the campuses,” Fulgenzi said. “Our police and volunteer and ambulance services have been stretched thin and have been subjected to injury and life-threatening situations.”

Oliva outlined the extent of police calls to both facilities. For the one-year period ending May 17, there were more than 1,500 police calls: 725 at the Cottage School and 827 at Cedar Knolls, he said.

If the schools fail to make improvements within the next two months, the town will ponder legal action, Fulgenzi said. He declined to specify what that might entail.

At last week’s meeting, Matthew Slater, Murphy’s chief of staff, read a letter the senator wrote to Sheila Poole, acting commissioner of the state Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS), demanding that no new residents be placed at the two facilities. If appropriate measures aren’t taken, Murphy said he would demand immediate closure of both centers.

“As a former employee of the Pleasantville Cottage School I know better than most the role these programs play in helping children who are confronting many, many challenges,” Murphy stated. “We have an obligation to those children, but the state also has the obligation to residents of communities like Mount Pleasant to ensure that their interests are also safeguarded.”

Murphy said he recently pressed for an inspection of both facilities and for state officials to meet with local officials. Those requests were denied.

Soracino, who praised town officials’ efforts, said one of the reasons he formed Coalition for a Safe Mount Pleasant was to raise awareness for state officials about the violent episodes that have occurred.

At the request of several residents, Slater said Murphy will request that state police patrol near the two facilities.

Some residents said they have seen students from both schools walking in their backyards or in the neighborhood. Soracino said if residents spot a youth wandering from campus or a sign of trouble they should call town police.

Councilman Denis McCarthy said violence associated with the two schools is not new. About a decade ago McCarthy and other local residents shared similar concerns with state officials but they have failed to rectify the situation.

“The system is broken,” McCarthy said.

A follow-up meeting has been scheduled for Friday, June 10 at 6 p.m. at Mount Pleasant Town Hall.


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