Mount Pleasant home for troubled youth commits to more safety measures after several off-campus incidents
A home for emotionally troubled youth in Mount Pleasant is committing to additional safety measures after several off-campus incidents prompted town members to hold a community safety meeting.
Both sides said at the meeting at Mount Pleasant Town Hall that they're concerned about the uptick in incidents and are laying out a path forward that they hope works for everyone.
Pleasantville Cottage School has been operating in the town for a century, but a rise in off-campus incidents - including trespassing, property damage and robberies - has many on edge.
"They've been terrorizing the neighborhood. People are afraid to go to ShopRite, they're afraid to go get gas. The business owners are being affected," says Danielle Zaino, of Coalition for a Safer Mount Pleasant.
Ronald Richter is CEO of JCCA – the child care association that runs the program. Richter said he's taking several steps to tackle these concerns.
"By offering the state a model that is the higher end, we will be able to manage the very few numbers of children that have those higher-end needs," says Richter.
This includes a proposal to build a fence around the property and asking the state for more administrative controls, like the ability to lock certain doors and to manage challenging behaviors.
"Our goal is to have our young people be safe, our staff is safe, and the community surrounding us be safe," says Richter.
Some residents say they're cautiously optimistic but still worry about the kids the facility is unequipped to help and who are causing the most difficulties.
"I would like to see that those kids are not placed at a facility like the Cottage School. It's an injustice to those kids and our community," says Zaino.
The JCCA says several factors like the COVID-19 pandemic, difficulty having kids medically admitted, and fewer psychiatric beds statewide have led to these challenges.
The two groups meet often. The facility will go before the town Zoning Board of Appeals in January to get a variance to move forward with that fence project.