From River Journal, A Shattered Legacy

Last summer we ran an article entitled "A Tale of Two Schools" which was prompted by calls we had received from school personnel who were concerned with discipline and behavior issues within the Sleepy Hollow Middle and High School.

The reaction to the article, and overreaction in a certain circle, prompted both condemnation and accolades alike for this publication. We stood behind the story and still do.

On a Sunday evening in August, the thirteenth to be exact, a group of six boys — all graduates of Sleepy Hollow’s class of 2006 — reportedly committed a felony in the form of Burglary in the 3rd Degree, according to the County District Attorney’s office. They did so by breaking into Sleepy Hollow High School and causing extensive damage/vandalism to over thirty windows along with the music and athletic department offices. We asked for and received a police report on the incident. The police had been notified by a resident on Hudson Terrace who heard glass breaking. The officers reported "numerous windows and other school property damaged," when they arrived. In turn they stopped two cars and returned to headquarters with "3 subjects" to interview. We have chosen not to list the names of the six arrested, even though a local daily has printed the names and addresses of four of the recent graduates. What went unreported in local papers, but was mentioned in correspondence between school officials, was that there was an attempt to start a fire in the school as well.

Windows were smashed and offices were trashed in the most severe case of vandalism that Sleepy Hollow High School has ever experienced. We spoke with a glass repairman at the school, less than twenty-four hours after the incident. He estimated the glass damage alone at $20,000 and said that the cleanup and replacement work would take at least one week. Additionally, damage to offices and equipment has been estimated at $10,000. Yet the damage done transcends the almighty dollar. It runs deeper and touches the community in a variety of ways: anger, shame, neglect and sadness.

How do beer bottles, blood and shards of glass fit into the image of the High School that I graduated from many years ago — a High School where Harold "Doc" Rasbeck wasn’t just a name attached to an athletic field, but a bona fide likeable science teacher and track coach who took "no lip" or disrespect from anyone, honor student or not. Of the six arrested, three graduated with Honors at Sleepy Hollow’s forty-ninth annual commencement. Another graduated with High Honors and received the New York State Senate Outstanding Achievement Award along with the Superintendent’s Award for Scholar Athletes. One is attending Brown University and two others have entered Siena College and SUNY Buffalo, according to a school official.

On Monday, August 28th the boys appeared before Village Court in Sleepy Hollow for a formal arraignment, according to Lucian Chalsen, spokesman for the District Attorney’s office. Afterwards and outside the Court attorneys gathered in small groups with each of the accused and their parents. Looks of distress and concern on the parents’ faces were evident. The emotions were palpable. One attorney was overheard saying, "Don’t worry. It’s going to be okay." It did little to lift the heaviness in the air. Simply put, the six young men are in a "reasonable amount of trouble," according to Mr. Chalsen. One of them has a previous arrest on the same charge of Burglary in the 3rd degree, within the past year.

The next court date is scheduled for October 2nd. Attorneys representing the six will be in discussions with Jeff Chartier at the District Attorney’s office prior to that time. If the felony charges are upheld, legal action will take place at the County level. The maximum penalty dependent on any previous record is 2 1/2 to 7 years in prison. If the charges are reduced to a misdemeanor, the Village of Sleepy Hollow will proceed with the case.

In the meantime, school has reopened. Our children have begun another year and we as parents adjust to the many responsibilities families face. As for the Sleepy Hollow Middle and High School, its teachers and administrators continue to reinforce "the keys to being successful" with the "4 B’s" behavioral program initiated one year ago. Be Here… Be Prepared… Be Respectful… Be Positive. The Middle School has a new principal with a hands-on approach to problem solving. The theme for the current school year is referred to as the "Power of One." Handouts define this as never underestimating the effect one person can have upon themselves and their community. It is a profound statement in light of what happened at the High School on the evening of August 13th.

Hopefully our children will be guided by the positive aspects of truly making a difference, for themselves and for the community that loves and supports them.

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About the Author: Robert Bonvento