The Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. was a grim reminder that despite numerous extra security that was put in place following the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut more than five years ago local school personnel and authorities must always be vigilant.
Little more than a week after the Parkland incident, the White Plains City School District (WPCSD) became aware of allegations posted on the Internet by a WPCSD student, which included threats of violence in school. According to a message sent to parents and educators School Superintendent Dr. Joseph Ricca, said the matter was immediately referred to the White Plains Police Department (WPPD) and that the police had responded and taken control of the ongoing investigation and an arrest was made.
The message further stated that the WPPD had determined during the investigation that there was no immediate threat to the school district or the White Plains community at large.
Ricca confirmed that the White Plains schools were safe and secure and ready to welcome children back on their return from winter break on Monday.
In addition to criminal charges brought by law enforcement authorities, the WPCSD will handle the incident in accordance with its Code of Conduct.
On Monday, Dr. Ricca told The White Plains Examiner that especially after violent events the public is more vigilant and ready to respond to situations that seem out of place and that as a general rule the White Plains School District does not have a higher than normal level of student incidents.
“As educators we need to focus on support services for students in crisis and engage in a strong and positive relationship with law enforcement, which the White Plains school district does have with the Dept. of Public Safety and the Youth Bureau,” Ricca said.
“We have psychologists, counselors, social workers and teachers trained to work with anyone, and a protocol to reach out to parents and guardians if there are any red flags. Communication is important and there are strong support services in all the school buildings with a solid program in place.”
As the school district was dealing with its own situation, Ricca took some heat for reposting a news article on social media about the suggestion to arm public school teachers in response to the Parkland shooting. Some critics thought his “sharing” of the article meant he agreed with it.
“Nothing could be further from the truth. I do not support arming public school teachers; I do not support reclassifying “active shooter drills” and I fully support our students as they make their voices heard and fight for what they believe is right in our nation,” Ricca wrote in a Facebook response.
“I was initially stunned by the response to yet another school tragedy,” Ricca said. And while he understands the workings of Washington, Ricca emphasized that there is no higher priority than the safety of the school children under his care. “I am concerned that an idea has the potential to become a policy discussion.”
And although President Trump later changed his comment to indicate that only some teachers should be armed, Ricca does not think that any teacher should be armed.
“It is the teacher’s job to educate. They should not be put into a position to have to make a decision about whether or not to engage in a firefight. And while some teachers may be veterans or former police officers, they will tell you that there is a big difference between having been trained to target shoot and training to engage in a firefight,” Ricca said.
These situations do not just come out of nowhere, Ricca added. “Schools need to have a method of follow through in place when a student is in crisis to avoid escalation.” That is where the teachers, psychologists and social workers communicating with public safety can be the most effective.
As far as communicating with a frightened student body when situations do arise and are reported in the news, the first thing to happen is that the principals talk with the faculty, Ricca said. “If a child brings up a subject about anything threatening their safety – can be school shootings, can be what’s going on with ISIS – the teachers let the children ask questions and then respond with facts in an age-appropriate manner. It is a tremendous challenge for teachers.”
Dr. Ricca expects to continue communicating on social media. He said he only shares what he feels is relevant to the White Plains schools, but he may post a comment indicating his position before “sharing” an informational news story in the future.
“As more people become acclimated with how the social media platforms work, this might not be necessary,” he said. But, in the meantime people can always get in touch with him to dispel a rumor or find out what is going on. He welcomes email correspondence sent to email@example.com.