NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- Last month, Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak admitted publicly, after years of denials and obfuscation, that the New Rochelle school district was not in compliance with the New York Project SAVE Law which mandates safety measures for public schools in New York. The announcement came at a Davis PTA meeting on January 3, 2013.
The New York Project SAVE Law was signed into law in 2000, in the wake of the Columbine shooting. The New Rochelle Board of Education produced the required District-Wide and Building-Level Safety plans in 2001 under former Schools Superintendent Linda Kelly. Since then just one building-level plan has been updated; the New Rochelle High School plan was updated in 2006 after the completion of the "new wing".
The district has claimed it approved an updated district-wide plan in 2009 but other than a resolution to that effect has provided no evidence that the district created or updated a district-wide plan in accordance with the requirements of the NY Project SAVE law.
One aspect of the requirements of the law is that the district create Safety Teams with certain required membership types. The NY Project SAVE Law describes required members of a building-level school safety team and a district-wide safety team. The New Rochelle school district is not in compliance with the law for either team and has not been in compliance since the years immediately following when the law went into effect in 2000.
District-Wide School Safety Team
A District-wide school safety team means "a district-wide team appointed by the board of education, the chancellor in the case of New York City, or other governing board. The district- wide team shall include, but not be limited to, representatives of the school board, student, teacher, administrator, and parent organizations, school safety personnel and other school personnel."
There are 7 required types of members of a district-wide school safety team, each appointed by the board of education, that must be represented:
1. School Board
5. Parent Organization
6. School Safety Personnel
7. Other School Personnel
The last officially promulgated list of team members was the 2009-2010 District-Wide School Safety Team which had the following members:
Richard E. Organisciak (Superintendent)
Dr. George Castellanos(Hisp.Lias.Officer)
Don Conetta (Principal-NRHS)
Det. Ray Andolina (NRPD)
John Gallagher (Dir.Envir.Serv.)
Bill Harrell (Principal-Davis)
Bruce Daniele (Dir. of Security)
Rosemary Lee (BOCES)
Joseph Williams(Principal Webster)
Dorothy Larkin (Community Rep.)
Anthony Costa (Teacher)
Maggie MacNichol-Skau (Public Info.)
Dr. John Magnotta (Athletic Dir.)
Grace Marino (Risk Management)
Martin Daly (FUSE President)
John Quinn (Asst. Supt. Bus.)
TBA (Dir.Pupil Services)
Valerie Orellana (PTA President)
Dr. Diane C. Massimo (Asst. Supt.)
DOWNLOAD: Safety Plan-District Wide 2009-2010
Of those 20 names (plus one "TBA"), 7 of those are no longer on the Team. 6 are no longer associated with the district: Cindy Babcock-Deutsch, Dr. George Castellanos, Rosemary Lee, Dorothy Larkin, Maggie MacNichol-Skau, Dr. John Magnotta. Anthony Costa is still associated with the district but no longer on the team.
No records has been provided by the district to show that Dr. Rhonda Jones, the current Director of Pupil Services was ever appointed by a board resolution to the District-Wide School Safety Team. Valerie Orellana was on the team in her capacity as PTA President. She has since been elected to the school board but there is no record of her being appointed by a board resolution to fill the board spot on the team. In either case, one required type of member is missing -- a parent organization member or a school board member.
There was not and is not currently a student member of the District-Wide School Safety Team.
As there was not a student member on the 2009-2010 District-Wide School Safety Team, the team was not in compliance and therefore any work done by the District-Wide School Safety Team was not valid under the NY Project SAVE Law.
In response to these documented failures to comply with the NY Project SAVE Law with regard to the District-Wide School Safety Team, Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak and Assistant Superintendent John Quinn have sought to muddy the water and confuse both the board and the public into believing that another entirely distinct committee is the District-Wide School Safety Team. This is not the case.
Under New York State Education Law 155.5, school districts are required to have a "health and safety committee" comprised of "representation from district officials, staff, bargaining units and parents" to "monitor the condition of occupied public school buildings in order to assure that they are safe and maintained in a state of good repair.
The New Rochelle "health and safety committee" is compromised of 3 administrators (John Quinn, Sonya Nunez and Bruce Danielle), 4 representatives of F.U.S.E. (Sandy Annunziata, Marty Daly, Billy Coleman and Victor Cristiano) and 2 consultants (Ellen Garcia and John Gallagher). The district is in violation of 155.5 in many ways but the most obvious is that the committee does not have a parent member.
The mission of the "health and safety committee" is to make sure the district is in compliance with the SED's Uniform Safety Standards for School Construction and Maintenance Projects. They develop and update a comprehensive maintenance plan for all major building systems, oversee the annual fire safety inspection of each building, and investigate and dispose of complaints related to health and safety through a written complaint procedure. This committee has no connection whatsoever with the District-Wide Safety Team under the NY Project SAVE law.
Assistant Superintendent Quinn has been improperly using this committee to stand in for the District-Wide School Safety Team for the past two years. The health and safety committee does not have a school board member, a student member, or a member from a parent organization.
All of the building-level templates that were recently distributed came from members of this committee; Ellen Garcia, Joseph Starvaggi and Bruce Daniele.
Another requirement of the NY Project SAVE Law is that the updated safety plans be on file with the local police department and the New York State Police.
Despite Quinn's improper efforts to create building-level plans over the past two years, he was still unable to complete the work so that on December 14, 2012, the day of the Newton shootings, the plans were still only in the early development stage. In response to the outcry from many New Rochelle parents wanting to know, for the first time, about the safety plans at their children's schools, Starvaggi and Daniele held a hastily arranged meeting at the headquarters of the New Rochelle Police Department (top, photo above).
State Police refused to provide information on the most current safety plans on file with their office but Police Commissioner Patrick Carroll did provide Talk of the Sound with access to all of the most current records on file with his department (bottom, photo above). The New Rochelle High School building-level plan on file with the New Rochelle police was last updated in 2006. All of the other building-level plans were from 2001 as was the district-wide plan. The plans are supposed to be reviewed annually and updated accordingly.
Building-Level School Safety Team
A building-level school safety team means "a building-specific team appointed by the building principal, in accordance with regulations or guidelines prescribed by the board of education, the chancellor in the case of New York City, or other governing body. The building-level team shall include, but not be limited to, representatives of teacher, administrator, and parent organizations, school safety personnel, other school personnel, community members, local law enforcement officials, local ambulance or other emergency response agencies, and any other representatives the school board, chancellor or other governing body deems appropriate."
There are 8 required types of members of a building-level school safety team, each appointed by the building principal, that must be represented:
3. Parent Organization Member
4. School Safety Personnel
5. Other School Personnel
6. Community Members
7. Local Law Enforcement Officials
8. Local Ambulance Or Other Emergency Response Agencies
School officials recently made available a current list of members of the building-level school safety teams.
DOWNLOAD: Building Level Safety Teams 2012-2013
The district records show that prior to the Newtown tragedy, the school district had 95 people, in total, that were assigned to the building-level school safety teams at all of the schools. After the shooting, there were 127 people, int total, on the building-level school safety teams at all of the schools.
Neither before or after Newton did the district have a duly constituted building-level school safety team as required under the NY Project SAVE Law. Despite adding members since Newtown, there are still large gaps in the membership of these teams.
8 schools do not have a required parent member (Trinity, Webster, Columbus, Albert Leonard, Barnard, Isaac Young, Campus School, NRHS)
2 schools do not have a required teacher member (Webster, Albert Leonard)
4 schools do not have a required security personnel member (Ward, Jefferson, Columbus, Isaac Young)
None of thee schools have a required Community member, a required Police member, or a required Fire/Ambulance member.
As a result, none of the actions of any of the Building-Level School Safety Teams are legal.
In addition to the failure to meet the requirements of state law for school safety, the records show that 2 principals failed to appoint themselves to their own building-level school safety team, Don Conetta at New Rochelle High School and Kimmerly Nieves at Jefferson School. The records show that more than half of the members of the teams are "other school personnel" with just 20% of team members being teachers. No building level team added a member outside of the required list although the State Education Department actively encourages this, especially as it relates to any unique needs a school may have.
It has been 10 weeks since the tragic events in Newtown, CT.
What does it say about the state of school safety in New Rochelle that even something as simple as appointing a parent to a building-level safety team or adding a student to the district-wide team has still not been done?