MAHOPAC N.Y. — Some senior citizens in Mahopac are upset because their favorite place in town to exercise is being taken away from them because of a new school policy.
“For years many of the residents of Mahopac have used the Mahopac High School track to walk, run and utilize the benefits we the taxpayers provide to the school district,” said Rose Daddio, who, along with her companions, likes to walk the track. But she says, they’ve been told the track will soon no longer be available to them.
Daddio and several of her track-using companions attended last week’s Board of Education meeting to express their concerns.
“Many of the taxpaying residents of Mahopac have used this facility for years with no problems,” she said. “At the present time, when you enter the school grounds, we are stopped by the staff and asked why we are there, and they also record our license plate numbers on a daily basis.”
School Superintendent Dr. Dennis Creedon said times have changed and school security has become more of a priority since incidents such as the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.
“The School Board passed a policy in June that states while school is in session, school property is closed to outside visitors,” Creedon said. “It is on par with other school districts across the country.”
Creedon said that strangers have beeb found walking through school grounds during recess, something the schools can no longer tolerate.
“Parents expect their kids to be safe and secure,” he said. “So the only people to have access [to the grounds] are certified faculty and those authorized by the state. This is something that is not unique to Mahopac.”
Once school is out of session, the grounds could be opened to the general public, Creedon told Mahopac News.
“Otherwise, we have to keep them closed unless there is already deemed permission,” he said. “It’s a security issue—something that was requested by our Safety Committee.”
Creedon said the track would probably be available during the month of July, unless the football team was practicing. He said makeup exams are given during the month of August, so using the facilities during that time could be problematic. Visitors, he noted, are free to use the track before and after school hours of 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
However, Creedon said he understood the seniors’ concerns and said that maybe a compromised could be reached.
Daddio said she was sympathetic with the security issue, but felt that shutting out the seniors from using the track during the hours they wished to use it (about 7 to 9 a.m.) was a bit of an overreach.
“I understand that security on school property is crucial; however, closing the school track that our tax money has provided is not what the community would like to see happen,” she said. “I do understand security. I have grandkids of my own. But we have never had a problem in 30 years. What we hope for is that you will allow us to use it and be gone by 9 a.m. We would never do anything to hurt the school or the children.”
Daddio said many seniors still haven’t heard about the district’s new policy and said she plans on bringing an even larger contingent to the next School Board meeting (Aug.9) in hopes a compromised could be reached.
However, Creedon said one problem is the district can’t single out one particular group and allow it access, while banning others. There would have to be “equal access.”
“And we don’t have enough people to monitor everyone,” he said. “We just can’t leave it open.”
Creedon noted there is the Putnam Trailway, a 12-mile trail that cuts through Mahopac designed for walking and bike riding, which, he said, could provide a viable alternative to the seniors.
Here is a statement about the new policy that was recently released by Dr. Creedon to district residents:
“The policy was presented to the public on April 19 for its first reading and a second reading and adoption took place on June 14 at the Board of Education meeting held at the Falls auditorium.
“This policy was recommended by the district’s Safety Committee. I was presented with the reasoning for it this past winter and accepted the recommendation and presented it for consideration by our School Board’s Policy Committee. The Policy Committee discussed and revised the policy recommendation over several months before it was presented to the full Board of Education for review and passage.
“This policy is supported by our local Carmel Police Department.
“The reasons for the policy are as follows:
• We are obligated to ensure the safety and security of our children and students during the school day;
• Our children and students have the right to use any part of our schools’ facilities at any part of the school day;
• We must prevent our students from coming into contact with illegal contraband brought onto our campuses by unmonitored visitors;
• Our schools do not have the additional staff needed to monitor visitors while they are walking, or working out, on our school grounds during school hours;
• Our district cannot discriminate between different citizens, who request access to school property during school hours;
• Our children and students must have a safe and orderly environment if they are to focus on their academic work.
“I understand that there are those who desire to use our high school track for walking. Visitors are free to do this before and after our school hours of 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
“If citizens desire to walk during the school day, Putnam County has six public parks available for visiting. We also have the beautiful 12 linear mile long Putnam Trailway available for walking. It is a paved bicycle/pedestrian path located primarily on right-of-way lands of the former Putnam Division of the New York Central Railroad.
“Our Mahopac Central School District is dedicated to our community. We share the use of our facilities after school hours with many community groups. In many ways, Mahopac and its schools are one and the same. However, after the tragic events at Columbine High School and Sandy Hook Elementary School, school security became a major concern for our parents, faculty, and local leaders. We needed a policy to ensure the safety and security of our children, students, and faculty. I hope you can agree.”