Physical education teacher William Hedges was among five retiring employees honored by the Riverhead school board at its meeting Tuesday night. Hedges, who has also coached football and track and field, is retiring after 30 years of service. Photo: Maria Piedrabuena

New technologies are quickly becoming essential tools for the Riverhead Central School District’s security plans, and so far, they seem to be working well, security director Terry Culhane said Tuesday night at a school board meeting. 

Culhane provided a brief overview of two specific apps the district has adopted to enhance their security plan: the Rave panic button and the “Share it” button. 

The panic button allows faculty and staff to quickly notify school security staff, police departments and other first responders about situations that may put people at risk, at the “push of a button,” Culhane said. 

Once pushed, the panic button notifies all parties of what’s going on, and where, within five feet of whoever initiated the push. Culhane said that this new initiative has been “well received” by faculty and staff. 

However, Culhane said that the security office wanted to expand beyond just notifying when an incident occurs. The goal, he said, is to create a “culture of connections” where faculty, staff and security guards develop a trusting relationship with students where they share information to better protect the school and keep it safe.

Riverhead Central School District director of security Terry Culhane during his presentation Tuesday night. Photo: Maria Piedrabuena

“I needed to take that to the next level, because sometimes kids don’t want to say something, because they’re afraid of repercussions or that they’re perceived as a snitch or a rat,” he said. “Unfortunately that’s the culture.“

The next level, Culhane said, is a free app called “Share it” from Social Sentinel, the company the district uses to monitor social media providing them with alerts when warranted. 

Modeled on the “see something, say something” campaign originally implemented by the New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Share It button—a bright yellow bouncing circle on the district’s website right hand lower corner—lets people report situations, anonymously or not, that they find “good, sad or bad,” or send a tip. All tips and reports go directly to Culhane and are not trackable by anybody, including the police department, he said

“You want to share something sad, for example, kids are concerned about something that’s affecting them, they let us know and then we can pass that along to the appropriate people,” Culhane said. 

“Or maybe something bad, you know, somebody has a weapon, somebody who’s planning to do something bad, somebody is planning to beat somebody up, or bullying, or whatever, or maybe somebody is concerned about a friend that wants to harm themselves. This is a way that they can tell us anonymously,” he said.

Culhane said that so far, he has already received some tips and even a couple reports from parents, not security-related, that he has forwarded to the appropriate parties. 

The board of education at Tuesday’s meeting. Photo: Maria Piedrabuena

Committee Reports

The wellness, health and safety, audit, and intergovernmental/policy committees provided their reports. Here are some highlights: 

Wellness: Meyer said that committee members were presented with several ideas to improve the program by the food services manager, Keith Graham. The majority of schools in the district participate in the community eligibility provision program, which allows schools with high percentages of low-income children to offer breakfast and lunch for free to all students. This, Meyer said, has in turn increased the number of meals being served.

At the high school, Graham suggested to make changes in the layout of the cafeteria serving lines, which would include upgrades in the service equipment, creating two lines that can serve hot food and snacks. Currently, Meyer said, there is only one line for hot food which causes backups well into the cafeteria when meals being served are popular. 

At the middle school, Graham also proposed to upgrade the equipment, which Meyer said, is aging and becoming insufficient to handle the number of students seeking meals. 

At Pulaski school the committee plans to change the serving line and kitchen, Meyer said. He added that although the space there is less than five years old, the school has outgrown the size of it. Graham proposed to create a “hole in the wall” between the serving line and the cafeteria and changing the serving equipment to create two lines instead of one, Meyer said. The old serving line would be transferred to Phillips Elementary School to replace that school’s failing equipment, he said. Other recommendations for Pulaski school include installing a walk-in freezer in the current location of a dry good storage room, Meyer said. 

Meyer said that the district will put together a formal presentation for the public with all the proposed changes. All expenditures have to be paid through the cafeteria capital reserve fund, something that community members need to approve first, he said.

Riverhead Board of Education member Laurie Downs at Tuesday night’s meeting.
Photo: Maria Piedrabuena

Videotaping meetings

The board discussed the possibility of videotaping school board meetings as a way to create more community engagement.

Board member Laurie Downs, who voluntarily recorded meetings for 10 years, suggested the idea of looking for students who need community service hours to assist in the videotaping. Another alternative, she said, was to put a camera in front of the board and stream directly to the website’s social media live feed. Downs said she does not favor the district paying for the service.

The board agreed to have Deputy Superintendent Sam Schneider investigate possible costs of having the meetings professionally recorded. The issue will be put back on the agenda for discussion in a month or so, when there is “more information.”

Social media etiquette for school board members

Two parents inquired about the social media policy for school board members, and complained of “negative comments made by school board members” on Facebook.

Board president Greg Meyer said that the district does not have specific guidelines in place to address that. He said the Intergovernmental/Policy committee would reach out to the New York State School Boards Association, or NYSSBA, and ask for guidance on this issue. The committee meets next around April, Meyer said. 

In other action last night, the school board:

Announced the upcoming retirement of five veteran employees: Arlene Chastaine, transportation assistant, 38 years of service; David Demerest, maintenance mechanic, 15 years of service; William Hedges, physical education teacher, 30 years of service; Lynn Ligon, school bus monitor, 17 years of service; and Ethel Maxine Stokely, teaching assistant, 23 years.

. Among them, William Hedges, a physical education teacher and football coach of 30 years.

Approved new and revised board policies, including:

  • Home-Schooled students: the policy is updated to include recent amendments in the state law regarding exemptions to mandatory vaccinations and clarifies that homeschool students may not participate in school activities that are not otherwise open to the general public.
  • Admission of non-resident students: The policy adds the word “homeless” as recommended by NYSSBA.
  • Students health services regulation: The policy was updated to include the removal of exemptions from immunizations for religious reasons in accordance with state law.
  • Voter registration for students: This is a new policy educates students in the importance of the right to vote and establishes procedures to offer students who are at least 16 years the opportunity to pre-register and for those who are at least 18 years old, the opportunity to register to vote.
  • Extreme Risk Protection Orders: This is a new policy that permits school administrators to petition courts for extreme risk protection orders against students who are at risk of physically harming themselves or others. 
  • Meal charge and prohibition against meal shaming policy: This is a new policy that would be implemented in addition to existing school meals policy. It looks to “provide student access to nutritious no- or low-cost meals each school day and to ensure that a pupil whose parent/guardian has unpaid school meal fees is not shamed or treated differently than a pupil whose parent/guardian does not have unpaid meal fees.”
  • New Freedom of Information Law Request Form

Editor’s note: This article has been amended to remove a statement by Trustee Laurie Downs that a member of the community was willing to pay the cost of video recording school board meetings.

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Maria Piedrabuena
María, a multimedia reporter, graduated from Stony Brook University with degrees in journalism and women and gender studies. She has worked for several news outlets including News12 and Fortune Magazine. A native of Spain, she loves to read, write and travel. She lives in Manorville. Email Maria