Photo by Michael Hallsey
RAVENA — Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk High School was evacuated briefly this morning after an unattended bag was deemed suspect.
Students were relocated to the middle school while State Police, the Coeymans Police Department and the Albany Sheriff’s Department investigated the bag and determined there was no threat.
The district put out a press release commending how students, faculty and staff responded to the situation.
“We are proud of how our students and staff responded today,” said Superintendent Brian Bailey in a post on the district’s website, which characterized the occurrence as a successful test of the school’s security protocols. “Their due diligence in adhering to our safety procedures was key to an efficient and safe response. We also want to thank the Albany County Sheriffs, State Police and Coeymans Police for their quick response and for assisting us in this matter.”
Parents on the scene, however, voiced suspicion and concern that they were not alerted, and that the brief post was all the information made available by the district.
Danielle Pennick learned of the incident after her ninth-grade daughter contacted her by cell phone. From there, Pennick began making phone calls to find out what was happening. She said school officials told her that her daughter wasn’t allowed to leave the premises and that authorities could not disclose exactly why.
Pennick said she felt she had been lied to, and didn’t understand why a student’s book bag became the focus of a suspected threat.
“What tipped you off,” she asked. “That’s what I want to know.”
“There was an unattended bag that was in the hallways,” Bailey told Spotlight News. As a precaution, he said, students were initially told to remain in their locked classroom with their teachers as administrators and first responders assessed the situation, a response he referred to as “Shelter in Place,” a common emergency response in New York state.
The situation began at around 7:45 a.m. Due to the fact that the district was waiting on various agencies to show up and assist with the investigation, said Bailey, the students were relocated to the middle school, which is located on the same campus, at a little after 9 a.m.
“It was just the location,” Bailey said when asked what appeared suspicious about a book bag in a high school. “It was sitting in an area of the building where someone would not have ordinarily set a bag down.
“Everybody’s so conscientious now in thinking about our student’s safety,” he said. “It’s a heightened level of observation.”
As far as notifying parents in situations such as this, Bailey said that the school has a School News Notifier messaging system and posts information on the district website, but did acknowledge a delay in this morning’s incident.
“We wanted to get information to parents sooner,” he said, but explained there were concerns about jeopardizing a potential investigation. “We wanted to ensure that the response was appropriate and waited for the lead investigator to help us with that.”
Bailey also noted that parents who might “rush to the school en masse” could end up putting themselves and others in danger. He explained that emergency protocols depend on a knowledge of where each student is, and said that it would be problematic if parents pulled them out of school suddenly or without informing the school.
Bailey elaborated briefly on emergency plans that the district has in place, noting even parents are rarely given the full scope of the plans for reasons of security. “That’s sensible,” he said. “You’ll find that in any district.”
Safety plans, he said, are filed with the state every year but are redacted for the public. “You don’t want someone with ill intent to know all of the particulars of our response.”
Students were back in their classrooms by 10:30 a.m.