School superintendents meet regularly with law enforcement leaders
ALBION – Orleans County school leaders have been getting together regularly the past two years with law enforcement officials to discuss safety plans, emergency responses, drunken driving awareness programs and other initiatives, including bringing mental health counselors into schools.
The collaboration was called unprecedented in Western New York by a state police official during a meeting last week at the Orleans County Public Safety Building.
The group discussed drug trends in the community, including a rise of prescription narcotic abuse, heroin and meth. Just recently, law enforcement have discovered meth labs in Holley and Albion.
The crackdown on prescription drug abuse has led more people addicted to drugs to seek out heroin, methamphetamine and other drugs, District Attorney Joe Cardone told the group.
“It’s here,” said Joe Sacco, the supervising investigator of the Orleans County Major Felony Crime Task Force. “You’re going to see it more.”
The Orleans County Sheriff’s Office has displays warning students and community members about drunk driving. Sheriff Randy Bower said he is working to bring in displays and experts to tell students and parents about the dangers of using painkillers and prescription narcotics, how they can often lead to addictions.
“We want to press prescription drug abuse,” Bower told the school leaders. “We could bring programs into the schools.”
The Sheriff’s Office also will go to schools to discuss Internet safety with students, and the dangers of sharing some photos, Bower said.
Schools are planning drunk driving simulations where a smashed car is brought to schools, and students role play being injured or killed from a crash. Those simulations are start reminders about drunk driving, especially with the upcoming proms and graduation parties.
School and police leaders are also planning an active shooter drill over the summer. All teachers in the county may be at the exercise, which is tentatively planned to be at Holley Central School. The county last had an active shooter drill on May 31, 2014, and that one was at the former Towne Primary School in Medina.
Since then, there has been a significant turnover with law enforcement officers and leaders of the departments, said Roland Nenni, Albion police chief.
He also advised the group that Albion will again host a National Night Out at Bullard Park on Aug. 2, with activities for children and families, as well as demonstrations by police agencies. Last year’s event drew 250 people, despite rainy weather.
Nenni also offered to make Albion’s K9 unit available to other communities, including school districts for drug searches.
The school leaders all said there have been significant efforts in recent years to make their buildings more secure. Kendall and Albion are working on capital improvement projects that will add even more security.
Cardone, the district attorney, said his office frequently gets calls from parents of students who complain their kids are being bullied or harassed through social media. He suggested the school officials create a subcommittee to create a policy for using social media.
Julie Christensen, Kendall school superintendent, said she urges parents to take their children’s phones away if they are harassing others. She said turning the phones off at night is also a good idea.
Michael Bonnewell, Albion school superintendent, said kids should adhere to the age limit for being on social media. Facebook says users need to be at least 13. Districts already must follow the Dignity for All Students Act, a state law ensuring children to the right to attend school in a safe, welcoming and caring environment, free of bullying.
Cardone said parents need to talk with their children about social media, especially when so many kids have Smart Phones with access to the Internet and social media sites.
“Hardly a week goes by when a parent doesn’t call upset,” Cardone said about cyberbullying. “Parents are besides themselves.”
The meetings among school and law enforcement have expanded to include some agency leaders, include representatives from the Orleans County mental Health Department and Genesee-Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse.
Marc O’Brien, director of the county’s mental health department, has worked with four of the five school districts to establish satelite mental health clinics in the schools this year. The county and Albion Central School also are planning to make a county mental health therapist available at Albion beginning next school year. That therapist would likely work out of the elementary and middle schools, and be open to high schoolers as well.
The mental health therapists help students with anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. Having those personnel at schools eliminates the transportation issue for students, and also means they are out of class for less time because they don’t have to travel to the Mental Health building in Albion.
O’Brien announced last week the county also is working with Medina Memorial Hospital to have a satelitte mental health office at the hospital in Medina.
“Every school has been fantastic to work with,” O’Brien told the school leaders during the meeting.
The therapists are on the county payroll, with the service paid for by the students’ insurance companies.
The school-law enforcement meetings also include Jim Simon, dean of the Genesee Community College centers in Albion and Medina. He said those sites have also bolstered security wth staff members receiving “bystander training” from law enforcement personnel.