Commack school officials have responded to two recent students deaths at after more than 2,500 signature on an online petition demanded action be taken.
Commack Superintendent Donald James sent a virtual letter home to Commack residents announcing that help is available for high school students coping with the loss of two classmates, and announcing a four-prong course of action.
The March 16 letter reads:
As the Commack community struggles to come to grips with the recent loss of two of its promising young high school students... I want to take a moment to inform you that there is recognition of the toll that these losses, and others like them, have taken on our students, staff, school district and the greater community.
James' letter identifies the two students who have recently passed, which Patch has declined to publish to respect the privacy of their families.
The superintendent said counselors, psychologist and social workers were available for students who needed them, and the same team was monitoring students. Group counseling sessions and grief sessions are being facilitated in the high school, according to the letter.
According to an online petition on Change.org, the recent deaths are two of 17 student deaths within the high school in the past five years. A member of the Commack school community, Victoria Modica, started a petition to convince school officials to allow suicide prevention into Commack High School.
The petition reads,
In the past 5 years, 17 students from Commack High School have passed away and a number of these deaths have been students that have chosen to take their own lives. Its time to make a change!
If someone listens, or stretches out a hand, or whispers a word of encouragement, or attempts to understand a lonely person, extraordinary things begin to happen.
Pass this around to anyone you know.
Be the Change!
This online petition has received more than 2,500 signatures. Modica reports that she delivered several copies of the petition to Commack High School and spoke directly to school officials of her desire to see a change within the district.
Attempts by Patch to reach Modica were unsuccessful.
Its unclear what impact, if any, the online petition had on the superintendent's open announcement of a four-prong course of action to review, evaluate and potentially create new district policies for responding to such tragedies.
James said the Component I will focus on the prevention of self-destructive behaviors, drug and alcohol use/abuse and suicide prevention. Assistant Superintendent for Pupil Personnel Services Amy Ryan will lead a committee that will recommend professional organizations who can work with district staff to develop skills necessary to help students deal with emotional issues.
The second component will be a committee of staff and community residents to review the district's current protocols, practices and procedures lead by the high school and middle school principals, James said. This group will review the Student Code of Conduct and the training provision of the new Dignity for All Student Act.
A third committee will review the district's measures designed to deter students from engaging in aggressive and inappropriate behavior. Richard Scheer, a specialist in modifying unacceptable teen behaviors hired in the fall of 2011, will work with the group to address issues including cyber, physical and verbal bullying.
Lastly, James has said Commack Coalition of Caring will be involved in each of the above three groups and double its efforts to prevent drug and alcohol abuse.
The superintendent encouraged district residents if they needed support, or knew someone who did, to call him at 631-912-2010, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or to call the guidance office or main office of any school.
Commack schools also has an anonymous alert system, which is found on the district's website.