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School board backs up supe’s response to ‘school shooting plans’

Susan Koukounas and Amelia Lantz

Riverhead Board of Education members defended the district’s handling of an alleged school shooting plan earlier this month, which police ultimately deemed was “not a threat.”

At their meeting Tuesday night, board members said they support the decision by Superintendent Nancy Carney and the district administration not to contact parents about the investigation, which began after a student reported what Ms. Carney called an “inappropriate image on another student’s phone”

The incident was first reported by the Riverhead News-Review on Jan. 13 based on a police report filed by Riverhead High School to document an Instagram post from a student “referring to school shooting plans.”

• Column: Parents should have been notified of ‘school shooting’ incident

In response to the News-Review’s request for comment, Ms. Carney issued a brief statement before the story’s publication. Later, she replied to a follow-up with a more detailed statement, which school board president Susan Koukounas read in its entirety during Tuesday’s meeting.

Parents were not directly informed about the incident by the district, but Ms. Carney said that was because the incident wasn’t a threat. On Tuesday, Ms. Koukounas, board vice president Amelia Lantz and board member Greg Meyer agreed with the superintendent’s decision. Board members Chris Dorr and Kim Ligon did not speak during the discussion. Board member Ann Cotten-DeGrasse was absent.

During the public portion the meeting, Laurie Downs of Riverhead described the lack of communication as “a terrible disservice to the community” and criticized Ms. Koukounas for not looking at her while she addressed the board.

“Don’t look down,” Ms. Downs said.

“I’m listening,” Ms. Koukounas responded. “Don’t get rude.”

Parent Yolanda Thompson said she believes the district should have put out a ConnectEd call even though the incident was determined to not be a threat.

“Does the board and superintendent feel that providing us parents with information will cause us to go crazy and that we don’t know how to handle things?” Ms. Thompson asked. “Is there a fear that if you let parents know what’s going on that all of a sudden we’re going to get into a pandemonium and storm the school?”

The exchanges involving Ms. Koukounas, Ms. Downs and Ms. Thompson — both of whom frequent school board meetings — continued as Ms. Koukounas repeated the district’s position on the incident.

Ms. Lantz said Ms. Downs’ criticisms were an example of “how things get so distorted.

“I think this was a great example of how our protocol actually works,” she said. “There’s proof in the pudding that this works. There’s so many things that get so distorted between the media and five, 10, 15 people.”

Mr. Meyer compared the district’s handling of the incident to its response to a Jan. 20 report of gunfire near Phillips Avenue Elementary School.

“That warranted us to initiate our emergency action plan,” he said. “The school went into lockdown. The police came. ConnectEd calls were made. That was a true threat because somebody came in and said, ‘I just heard gunshots.’ ”

A copy of the district’s emergency action plan is posted on the district’s website.

Below is the superintendent’s original statement to the press on Jan. 13:

As you know we take student safety very seriously, and the comments posted on social media are of great concern to the District.  We are investigating the circumstances of this comment. Police were contacted as well as the student’s family. Appropriate disciplinary action will be taken once the investigation is complete. We are committed to offering a safe and stable learning environment for all students.

Below is the superintendent’s statement released to the News-Review on Jan. 15:

Calls are made to all parents when there is an emergency that causes a disruption to building procedures or an emergency regarding students’ safety. Neither was the case in this situation. As the police determined, there was no viable threat to students in the building. A decision is made by the building principal or by me to as to the response of any emergency situation. Above all, a response to any situation is made on a case by case basis with a thorough review of the facts. There is nothing I take more seriously than student safety. In this incident, a student reported to administration seeing an inappropriate image on another student’s phone. No students or teachers were mentioned. The situation was addressed immediately in an appropriate manner. We appreciate when students or parents bring any inappropriate actions or situations to our attention so that we can address them. We commend the student for reporting this incident and we continue to encourage open lines of communication between students, parents and staff.

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Photo: Riverhead school board president Susan Koukounas and vice president Amelia Lantz at Tuesday’s meeting. Both said they support the district’s decision to not contact parents about an alleged school shooting plan because police ultimately deemed the report as “not a threat.” (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)