Town of New Paltz Police Chief Robert Lucchesi last week addressed the New Paltz Central School District’s Board of Education on the subject of student safety and the role of local law enforcement.
“We take the safety of our students very seriously,” Lucchesi said. “And I say ‘our students,’ because many of us live in this community and have children that go to school in this district. So we are vested in that, and we take that very seriously.”
Last month, the School Board held a public hearing on its Districtwide School Safety Plan, much of which is circulated internally and not in the public eye to prevent someone with bad intentions from figuring out ways around them.
At the meeting of the Board of Education held on Wednesday, September 7, Lucchesi explained the need for secrecy with certain parts of the safety plan.
“I understand the frustration that parents have because inherently there’s much of this that revolves around information that we can’t publicly talk about,” he said. “It would be counterintuitive to what our goal is.”
In mid-August, Interim Superintendent Bernard Josefsberg sent a letter to the NPCSD community about the plan.
“We are moving forward with hardening plans to counter conceivable external threats,” Josefsberg wrote. “These include working closely with the New Paltz Police Department — both behind the scenes and as a visible community presence. They do not include stationing armed officers in school buildings. School safety also means softening the experience of school so that everyone feels safer. We want our schools to be places of vigilant caring.”
The August public hearing was the culmination of a month-long period of comment where the 30-page Districtwide School Safety Plan was available for review on the district website.
While the plan does not call for police officers to serve as armed SROs during the school day, the School Board did approve an inter-municipal agreement with the Town of New Paltz for police security and safety services at specific district events during the 2022-23 school year, with one or two officers being paid their regular rate with benefits, plus an additional 9.4 percent, for a minimum of three hours per event.
Last week, Lucchesi stressed the importance of speaking up about safety concerns, including sharing ideas about ways to improve school safety.
“If you see something, say something,” Lucchesi said. “I’ll be the last one to say that I’m all knowing, and somebody may have an idea…and they should bring that forward to you as, as the Board of Education. And certainly they can feel free to speak to us as the police department here. One of the things that we we’ve been talking about with the school (district) leadership… is that safety is everybody’s responsibility from the students all the way up to the superintendent.”
Lucchesi said the entire district will need to be vigilant with everything from ensuring doors aren’t propped open to not allowing unauthorized people into the building.
“Building security is everyone’s responsibility,” he said. “There’s a reason that there are single points of entry. And so we have to make sure that we are following the plan that’s in place.”
Lucchesi said that his department and NPCSD administrators meet with a countywide safety committee each month, sharing experiences and ideas.
“We have discussions just like this,” he said. “What are some issues that each school encounters, and what are ways that they are trying to respond to those issues? What happens here (in New Paltz) is not always unique to just this district. We’ve established great communication and collaborative efforts with the districts throughout Ulster County, and that has been helpful through the years here.”
While there won’t be an SRO posted to schools, Lucchesi said that officers will visit campuses across the district from time to time.
“We will see officers walking throughout all of the schools,” Lucchesi said. “We periodically check in throughout the day.”
Lucchesi said he hoped the relationship between the NPCSD and the police department will be a positive one.
“It’s about community engagement,” he said.“It’s about building bridges and making ourselves more accessible to the students and the parents and the families in the school district.”
Lucchesi said the police department will continue to assist with lockdown drills in New Paltz schools.
“But our philosophy has been and will continue to be prepared, not scared,” he said.“We’re not here to scare kids, but we certainly want to prepare the teachers, the faculty and the staff for a lockdown.”