How Westchester County Aims to Create Safer Schools

Picture of Tara Gibson By Tara Gibson

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High SchoolThe recently formed Westchester County School Safety Commission has just released its inaugural report outlining how it plans to create safer schools throughout the county. The report is interesting inasmuch as it advocates prevention through communication in order to identify threats and intervene before they escalate.

Westchester County covers an area of 450 square miles immediately to the north of New York City. The county's students are served by 258 public schools in forty school districts, a further 122 private schools, and 32 professional schools, colleges, and graduate schools - some with multiple locations.

Protecting the schools and responding to incidents is complicated. The boundaries of many school districts do not follow town boundaries, and different boundaries exist for fire districts, professional and volunteer ambulance corps, and other emergency teams. There are also overlaps between the county's forty-three police departments, the Winchester Department of Public Safety, and New York State Police. 

The Driving Force behind Creating Safer Schools in Westchester County

The driving force behind creating safer schools in Westchester County is the county's District Attorney Anthony A. Scarpino, Jr. DA Scarpino and County Executive George Latimer formed Westchester County School Safety Commission in August 2018 with the objective of developing and sharing best practices to keep students, faculty, staff, and community members safe while in and near Westchester schools.

The Commission was divided into two committees. The first was comprised of stakeholders from education, law enforcement, and mental health, and was tasked with recommending best practices for threat prevention and intervention. The second committee was comprised of law enforcement agencies and tasked with streamlining crisis management and emergency response.

The two committees developed their recommendations taking into account guidelines published by federal agencies and national advocacy groups, and also with reference to the New York State School Safety Report. The recommendations were recently published in the inaugural Westchester County School Safety Commission Report 2019 subtitled “Creating Safer Schools”.

The Four Major Recommendations to Create Safer Schools

Cross-District Prevention, Planning, and Response.

The Commission believes it can create safer schools by promoting a cross-district positive school culture and sending clear messages on expected behaviors. A teach/practice/reward model will be used to promote good behavior, and social and emotional wellness.

Enhanced Communications among Stakeholders.

The Commission aims to take advantage of communications technologies - including anonymous tip texting software - to establish a network between students, school staff, parents, and law enforcement that supports a comprehensive school violence prevention strategy.

Adopt a Schoolwide Systems Approach to Threat Prevention.

Building on the communication network, the Commission will use the network to identify student concerns (i.e. absenteeism), assess the seriousness of the concerns, and address the concerns systematically with a range of corrective response measures appropriate to the level of concern.

Enhanced Relationships between Schools and Law Enforcement.

This recommendation relates to having law enforcement agencies and other emergency services personnel involved in training and drills. There will be thresholds determined for when law enforcement notification is required, and how responses will be coordinated.

A World of Difference from Florida's Public Safety Act

The Westchester County School Safety Commission's considered recommendations are a world away from Florida's deterrent-based reaction to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting which resulted in the legislature passing a bill that supports the arming of teachers. The two committees identified that in most school shooting incidents there are red flags which, if identified and addressed in a timely manner, can prevent a concern escalating to a serious incident.

Related Blog: What to Know About the Florida School Safety Database

Speaking about the report and its recommendations on Andrew Whitman's “News Breakers” show, DA Scarpino emphasized the importance of a good communications network through which stakeholders can raise concerns with threat assessment teams, who can then decide on the appropriate course of action. He also commented that there has to be a way to communicate anonymously in order to encourage individuals who might feel at risk reporting a concern.

Interestingly Whitman asked DA Scarpino why measures such as arming teachers, installing metal detectors, and frequent active shooter drills were not among the Commission's recommendations. DA Scarpino replied that, had the commission been formed solely of law enforcement officers and security experts, those measures might have been recommended. However, there was pushback against school hardening from teachers, parents, and students, and the Commission listened to their concerns.

Find Out More about Anonymous Tip Texting Software to Create Safer Schools

One of the recommendations to create safer schools is taking advantage of communication systems, such as anonymous tip texting software, to establish a solid network between students, faculty, and staff. If you have responsibility for safety and security in a public or private school, and you would like to know more about creating safer schools through anonymous tip texting software, do not hesitate to get in touch.

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Written by Tara Gibson

Tara is a Marketing Coordinator on the Rave Mobile Safety marketing team. She loves writing about all things K-12 education, and manages the Rave social media channels. When she's not working, she's taking care of her smiley, shoe eating, Instagram-famous fur baby, Enzo!

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