“This is where people are receiving help, and we comply with the rules,” said Karen Vasquez, a client at the Ocean-side Counseling Center, after she was informed that some parents are concerned because the clinic is next door to the Ocean-side Kindergarten Center.
The Counseling Center, at 71 Homecrest Court, provides support and rehabilitation for people dealing with alcohol and drug dependence, as well as mental illness and addiction. Additionally, it treats people who have been charged with driving while intoxicated, according to its website, which also says it has served the community for more than 40 years and is affiliated with South Nassau Communities Hospital.
Damian Becker, director of media relations for South Nassau, said the building, shared by Oceanside School No. 6, has been subleased through the Oceanside School District for more than 20 years. He added that there are no bodyguards on site, but emphasized that cameras, locks and an identification system are in place.
“There is no exit or entrance possible without alarms going off,” Becker said.
No incidents have been reported, according to Dana Sanneman, the hospital’s executive director of public affairs. “We haven’t gotten any complaints from any parents here,” she said.
However, some parents, who declined to be identified, expressed concern about the facility to the Herald.
“It’s inappropriate to be located in our schools, which opens a window of safety concerns,” said one parent of a child enrolled in the pre-school program. “We must be proactive rather than reactive,” she added, alluding to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012 and similar tragedies.
“Allowing this center to continue to conduct business in this facility poses a threat, and the school board needs to address this potential threat immediately,” she said.
Another parent said, “Mental illness and children should not be mixed,” adding, “It takes a strong person to admit they have a problem, but drugs and alcohol are a very risky thing to have babies around.”
The parent said she believed the clinic should be relocated, especially since School No. 6 already houses “the alternative school,” referring to Oceanside High School Castleton.
“The program should have been removed when children, of both the kindergarten center and alternative school, entered into the building,” she added. “That part of the building should be a community center for our district’s students and the community.”
She said she is “100 percent pro-mental health awareness,” but said she still does not believe the facility should be in the same building as a school.
Another parent said that about three years ago, her friend was sent to the Counseling Center by the Department of Motor Vehicles after the friend was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated.
While attending the clinic, she said, her friend noticed that the doors were not locked and no alarm was installed at the door that the facility shares with the school on the second floor, but both issues were fixed.
“I still think 100 percent it should not be there,” the parent said.
Another parent offered a different perspective and said the concerned parents “have nothing better to do than create problems when there hasn’t been or isn’t any.”
She added that people at the Counseling Center are there to “better themselves” and are “just trying to get a little help.”
Oceanside Superintendent Dr. Phyllis Harrington said school safety is a top priority.
“Parents should know that we take safety and security very, very seriously and have multiple measures in place to keep children in all of our school buildings safe,” she said. “At School No. 6, doors from each floor are locked with security codes and are alarmed with camera surveillance. Most importantly, security monitors [from the school] and building aides help to enforce our strict safety procedures and protocols.”
Vasquez, a client at the Counseling Center since last April and a former counselor for more than 30 years, said, “Most [of] the people here . . . they’re normal people, with normal problems.”
She added that most of the clients attend the facility at night and do not loiter, and that most are there voluntarily for substance abuse.
“These kinds of people would not harm a child,” Vasquez said. “I get it, I understand . . . But logically, it makes no sense. They should be scared if they weren’t seeking help. And if anything, we’re hurting ourselves . . . Addiction is about hurting yourself.”
She continued, “We’re mothers, fathers, grandparents. We work . . . as long as there’s life, you’re going to fall sometimes.”