Letter from the Superintendent
Dear Pawling School Community Member:
I am writing as a follow up to the message we sent on Tuesday afternoon regarding a report by several high school students about a concerning conversation with another student. First, the students acted as we have requested by speaking with the adults when they have concerns. For that, we thank them.
While some of the comments that were a part of the conversation were unusual and resulted in students reporting them, the investigation, conducted in conjunction with our School Resource Officer (SRO) and the Dutchess County Sheriff’s Department, determined that there were no threats toward any student, staff member, or the school. Further, it was determined that there were no violations of our Code of Conduct. Student privacy rights place very strict legal restrictions on the information that school personnel or a school district may release about students.
The recent tragedies at schools around the country and the events following have left many students, parents, and staff members feeling very uncertain and concerned about school safety. This heightened sense of concern on everyone’s part, along with the immediacy of social media, leaves schools with many unique challenges. Do we report limited and incomplete information about a particular situation to parents? If we make the decision to do so, do we inform just those parents with students in the school? Or, do we inform all parents in the district? Will our communication raise parent concerns, or serve to reassure them that we are aware and investigating?
Understandably, it is natural for us as parents and staff members to want to know the details about an individual situation, particularly when we believe it may involve our children’s safety or our own. On Tuesday, we made the decision to send the limited information we could send in order to inform parents that the school administration was aware of the conversation that had taken place and was actively investigating the circumstances surrounding it. The decision was based, in part, on a judgment that information would likely begin to appear on social media (much of it based on rumors), and we wanted parents to be aware that 1) there were no known threats against any students, staff members, or the school, and 2) the investigation was ongoing.
I want to reassure you that the safety of our students and staff is our highest priority. Over the past several years, we have taken many steps to create and maintain a safe school environment. We continue to work closely with the Dutchess County Sheriff’s department as we identify methods and materials to continuously improve our ability to safeguard our students and staff.
Our students acted appropriately by reporting their concerns to adults at the school, and our school administration and SRO thoroughly investigated the reports before determining that there was no risk to students, staff, or the school.
In closing, I respectfully request that the adults in our community continue to serve as positive role models for our students. Many rumors have no basis in fact. To repeat rumors often adds to others’ sense of concern and panic. If you learn of first-hand information that may be relevant to school safety, I ask you take the responsible action and contact school authorities directly, as we ask students to do. Your ongoing support and positive modeling for our students is appreciated.
William M. Ward, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools
Pawling Central School District