Saranac Teachers Association members sprang into action to keep students safe and relieve their anxiety after two convicted murderers escaped in early June from a maximum security prison less than five miles away from Saranac schools in rural Clinton County.
"There were so many factors to consider with this unfortunate situation," said Michele Bushey, a biology teacher who was elected president of her 177-member local just 11 days before the prison break.
"Everything had to be dealt with, from working with law enforcement specialists of the New York State Police to sweep the building before our students and staff entered; to providing safe transportation through potentially dangerous areas; to creating an emergency final exam and Regents' exam plan; to making sure our STA members and other staff are notified of our decisions and plans."
Teachers, school psychologists and counselors worked to help students adjust. During the first week after the escape, the district closed schools for two days. Bushey used phone calls, email and social media to keep in frequent touch with her colleagues.
"Reaching out to our members to provide updated information helped to maintain calmness in a very challenging situation," she said.
Some students and their families who live within the initial six-square-mile search area were sheltered in their homes. Many houses are secluded, and located in heavily wooded areas; residents were advised to stay with friends or family in other towns. Relocations and roadblocks forced some teachers and staff to commute an hour or more to school.
To keep students from being anxious, teachers came up with the idea to show support for law enforcement involved in the intense search. STA members Jennifer Ovios, a math and reading intervention teacher, and Mark Burrell, a physical education teacher, helped students make a giant "thank you" banner.
The schools reopened June 15 after the search area was widened. As of presstime, escapees Richard Matt and David Sweat were still at large.