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Bomb threats shutdown OFA bathrooms

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Several bathrooms that were closed at Ogdensburg Free Academy following numerous bomb threats will reopen thanks to two students who objected to the decision at Monday’s city school board meeting.

Superintendent Timothy M. Vernsey said he closed the bathrooms because multiple bomb threats written on the walls and stalls had been found in the past three weeks.

The threats, Mr. Vernsey said, have frustrated staff and students and disrupted several classes. This is not the first time the measure has been taken, Mr. Vernsey said.

“We thought it would be better to centralize the bathrooms, and assess our camera situation over the break,” Kevin Kendall, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment at the Ogdensburg City School District, said. “We cannot clearly monitor all the bathrooms all the time. We have to pull some cameras that are in construction areas right now and put them on the outside doors of the bathroom in order to monitor who is coming and out of the bathrooms.”

The plan was working well for administrators, Mr. Kendall said.

“We have not seen an overabundance of complaints, but we have seen a stoppage in threats,” Mr. Kendall said. “We have to pull some cameras to put them on the outside doors of the bathrooms.”

But tenth-graders Connor D. Ward, 16, and Jack A. Downing, 15, told school board members Monday that long lines and the distance between classrooms and the available restrooms have been an inconvenience to students.

Connor, the sophomore class president, said several students had complained to him that they had been late for class, which negatively affected their class participation grades.

“There are only two boy’s bathrooms open at the moment – one in the middle school, one in the high school, and there are two that are closed in the middle school and two in the high school,” Jack said.

The school is also in danger of violating State Education Department code, the students said. Under the code, “Secondary and middle school boys should have access to one urinal per 30 students and one bathroom per every 50 students,” Connor said. The school has over 700 students.

Mr. Kendall said students also use the school nurse’s office and locker rooms. Board members agreed with the students.

“If this is a law or a regulation, we should be in regulation we should look into to making enough restrooms available for our student population,” Board President Ronald N. Johnson said.

Mr. Vernsey applauded the students’ presentation.

“You clearly did your research,” he said. “We will take a look at it and I like how you approached this board. You were very respectful and you did it the right way.”

Mr. Vernsey then condemned those responsible for the bomb threats.

“I want to be very clear that if I find out who is doing bomb threats in this district, I will use every resource to do whatever I can to punish that person to the fullest extent of that I can in New York State, which will not be a pretty for that person,” Mr. Vernsey said. “I am tired of exiting this place and disrupting over 700 students’ education for that nonsense. Anything you can do to spread the word that this is not a cool thing to do is appreciated. It puts everyone in this building at risk, as well as our firefighters and police officers at risk.”

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