B y Dan King

Despite some parents’ concerns, a Washington County Sheriff’s Deputy says Whitehall Central School is “as safe as it can be.”

Deputy Tim Carroll said the district is one of the safest he’s been in and he credits the “behavioral specialist” program that was adopted this school year to deal with disciplinary issues.

“I enjoy coming here, you should be very proud of this program,” Carroll said. “These kids now respect what this program is. I watch them come into the ISS room and these ladies sit down with them and discuss the issue, to calm them down. You never hear from these kids again, except for the repeat offenders, who you are going to hear from anyway.”

Some parents and residents were not sold on the program, though, especially after Superintendent Liz Legault said that the district had faced “five very serious incidents since last week.” She would not specify what the incidents were but confirmed that they had been handled by the behavioral specialists, Evelyn St. Claire and Lauren Steves.

The behavioral specialists have positions that require board reappointment but the board tabled any decision until next month. The district also works with Washington County Sheriff’s Department to have Carroll in the school.

Michael Rocque, a Whitehall resident, said he doesn’t feel the program goes far enough in disciplining behavioral issues.

“One of the longest standing issues we have in this school district is a discipline issue,” he said. “It seems like we’re putting (disruptive students) in a time-out chair and that doesn’t work. As they grow up and mature, they need to realize consequences.”

Legault said that she was in favor of potentially making the program stricter on repeat offenders.

“The consequence right now is the kid leaves the classroom and has got to go make that work up, they don’t get to sit out and miss work. The data shows us this works.” she said. “Can we beef it up and make some adjustments? Absolutely.”

Rocque also said that more accountability needs to be put on the students’ parents for behavioral problems.

“What level can we hold parents accountable? Because they are certainly a large part of it,” Rocque said. “It’s unfortunate that we’re at a point where we have to have officers in uniform in schools.”

Legault said that is precisely the role of the behavioral specialists, to essentially bridge the gap between school and home. She said the behavioral specialists frequently call parents regarding behavioral concerns and basic well-being of students.

“If a student has head lice, for example, they’re calling and seeing if that student can get a new bed,” Legault added. “The issue is we don’t want students disengaged.”

“We have a good relationship with the sheriff’s department, State Police, CPS (Child Protective Services) and mental health in Glens Falls,” Legault said. “Poverty is no excuse for academics, but sometimes it can create a situation where students can lash out behaviorally.”

The district has brought on Peter Telisky as a daily substitute in the ISS room because it is against state guidelines to pull a special education student out of a classroom and keep him/her out for an extended time, Legault said. She said she chose Telisky because under the previous long-term substitute, the ISS room was “out of control.”

One resident asked if the two specialists had downtime now that the district had repealed the block schedule. Officials quickly dispelled the idea of the specialists having any downtime, saying it was quite the contrary.

“Those two ladies work as hard as anyone, they never have any downtime,” Carroll said. “The instances of calling the police have gone way down thanks to Mrs. St. Claire and Mrs. Steves. You’re program is very good and if you maintain it, you’re going to see a huge upgrade, not only academically, but with discipline too.”

Board member James Brooks said the program isn’t flawless, but it works well.

“I’ve heard comments from students who have been very appreciative of disruptive students being removed from the classroom, allowing the other students to get something out of class,” he said. “Is it perfect? No. Is it better? From what I’ve heard from students, yes.”

Legault said she feels there is a vast spectrum of opinions on the efficiency of the program, even within the board, and that discussion of the future of the behavior specialist position will be a priority next month.

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