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PTA Council Brings in Big Guns to Arm Parents in the Fight Against Online Child Predators

spivakDespite relentless and evolving efforts by online predators, parents can help protect their children through awareness, communication, education, and caution. That was the message at the Scarsdale Council of Parent-Teacher Associations-sponsored event on internet safety this Wednesday, April 19. For the presentation, the PTC brought two heavy hitters to advise parents on how they can protect their children from internet predators' latest schemes.

FBI Special Agent Aaron Spivak, an expert in online child exploitation crimes from the Crimes Against Children squad, and Mimi Rocah, Chief of the White Plains Division of the US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York (and Fox Meadow mom) presented the latest information on internet sexploitation. Agent Spivak discussed internet crimes the FBI sees frequently: production and trading of child pornography; crimes that begin with online meetings and end in abduction, sex trafficking, or abuse; and online enticement of minors, a phenomenon known as "sextortion." Sextortion reports were up 150% within the first several months of 2016 compared to the number of reports in that same time-frame in 2014, and the FBI has described sextortion as "by far the most significantly growing threat to children."

In sextortion schemes, predators will use non-physical forms of coercion, such as blackmail, to acquire sexual content such as photos or videos of children or to compel in-person meetings. For example, a perpetrator disguised as another student gets a potential victim to send a slightly racy picture or to reveal personal information. Then, he threatens to make the photo or information public unless the victim does as the perpetrator instructs. The victim feels s/he has no choice and complies. Special Agent Spivak gave an example of a ruse a perpetrator used to hack into adolescents' email accounts. He would then use the information he gathered from his dealings with the adolescents or information he found in their emails to blackmail the children, threatening to email their contact lists or otherwise expose them unless they complied with his requests.

Agent Spivak and Chief Rocah both stressed that online perpetrators, some of whom are very sophisticated in their approaches, come from all socio-economic and educational backgrounds, as do their victims, who are as young as six but most commonly aged 10-12. Therefore, it is important that all parents teach their children that people they meet online are not always who they claim to be. Additionally, parents can help prevent crimes by encouraging their kids to come to them if they encounter anything online that makes them feel uncomfortable.

roachThe informative presentation ended with a question and answer period for the speakers, after which Mr. Jerry Crisci fielded questions from parents in his capacity as Director of Instructional Technology and Innovation of the Scarsdale Public School System. He discussed student education on digital citizenship (which encompasses appropriate use of technology and includes internet safety) that is taking place on some level at all Scarsdale schools and listened to suggestions from parents to bring in experts such as FBI Special Agent Spivak to help get through to students, particularly before the summer break when children have more time to access the internet. He also addressed questions regarding teachers' Twitter feeds and online privacy of students. Finally, he discussed the balance between the District's need to demonstrate its progress with students with student privacy.

Major Takeaways from the Presentation?
Do not hesitate to immediately call law enforcement if you suspect victimization, no matter how seemingly minor. Even if it seems like an incident is not worth prosecuting or you only have partial information, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's CyberTipline (1-800-843-5678) maintains a database and together with other tips, your tip could be used to help catch a predator.

Teach your children to be cautious while using the internet. Even from a young age, children can and should be taught that people they meet on the internet are not necessarily who they say they are. At older ages, children can be armed with knowledge about predator schemes, etc., that will help protect them from being victimized.

Set parental controls at age-appropriate levels and use filtering and monitoring tools as a complement—not a replacement—for parental supervision

Monitoring your children is important. Offenders find children on Xbox, Youtube, Instagram, and many other sites children use every day. Many crimes have been discovered by parent vigilance. Checking your child's history to see what websites s/he has accessed, keeping computers in a public area of the home, and supervising internet-enabled devices can help protect them.

Be alert to warning signs of contact with an online predator such as your child being secretive about online activities, being obsessive about being online, withdrawal from family and friends, and changing screens or turning off computer when an adult enters the room.

Communication is extremely important. Particularly in the sextortion schemes, perpetrators can lose their power if students are able to bring their fears to their parents.

Preserve evidence. The FBI presentation slide states to always contact law enforcement and that your child will not be prosecuted for possessing images.

If you're thinking about calling, don't wait! Cyberpredators can change IP addresses, erase evidence, or take other evasive maneuvers.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's website has cyber-safety resources for parents, educators, law enforcement and children, including videos for various ages and links to websites to help children and families in the fight against online predators.

InternetSafety101 has age-specific guidelines about how to protect children from cyber attackers.

Marc Holliday, CEO of SL Green Realty Corp to Speak at Scarsdale Library

HollidayMarc Holliday, Scarsdale resident and CEO of SL Green Realty Corp., will speak about One Vanderbilt Avenue, one of his company's high profile projects, at the Scarsdale Public Library on Thursday, April 20th, at 7:30 p.m.

Mr. Holliday's talk is entitled "One Vanderbilt: The Blueprint for Rebuilding East Midtown." One Vanderbilt Avenue is adjacent to Grand Central Terminal and has been the topic of much conversation in the New York real estate world. The project will be a state-of-the-art office building and one of the tallest towers in New York City. SL Green, in partnership with the City, has also committed $220 million into upgrading the area's transit system.

"Many Scarsdale residents pass by One Vanderbilt on a daily basis and have witnessed the beginning stages of the new development. We are looking forward to having Mr. Holliday share his expertise on this transformational project and the impact that it can have as a model for redevelopment in the area," said Beth Bermel, Director of the Scarsdale Public Library.

This program is free and open to the public; registration is encouraged at the library website,, or by calling the Reference Desk at 914-722-1302.

True Suburban Stories Take Center Stage in Scarsdale on Wednesday April 5 at 7 pm

sandimarxWith live storytelling events sweeping the nation, the Scarsdale Adult School is pleased to present Tales from the 'Dale and Beyond, an evening of true suburban stories told live by local luminaries and special guests. This event will take place on Wednesday, April 5th at Heathcote School Auditorium, 26 Palmer Avenue, Scarsdale, NY.

Modeled after the wildly popular "The Moth" shows, which are broadcast on 400 radio stations and draw enthusiastic crowds at venues nationwide, Tales from the 'Dale and Beyond is intended to bring friends and neighbors of Middle School age and above together for a heartwarming, completely authentic and at times hilarious evening. All stories must be true (at least as each teller remembers it), and present a conflict that somehow gets resolved by the end the telling.

Tales from the 'Dale and Beyond will be hosted by STEPRashidMoth StorySLAM winner and former Scarsdale resident Sandi Marx, who has become a fixture on the New York storytelling scene. Featured storytellers include: Moth GrandSLAM champion Danusia Trevino; Scarsdale High School teacher and former model Rashid Silvera, 107.1 The Peak radio host Jimmy Fink, social media star Lucie Fink; print journalist turned TV writer/producer David Handelman; Scarsdale Middle School teacher Denise Del Balzo; Fran Scheffler-Siegel, writer Victoria Assa and textiles designer Lori Weitzner.

You won't want to miss this inaugural evening of suburban storytelling. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased online here or at the door on April 5th. Students 18 and under are free! For more information, contact the Scarsdale Adult School at 914-723-2325.

Dara Gruenberg Elected President of The Friends of the Scarsdale Library

BBB Dara Gruenberg and David Lee1The Friends of the Scarsdale Library, the active volunteer group that supports many of the library's programs, elected Dara Gruenberg as president at its annual meeting today.

Gruenberg succeeds Kathy Gray, who in her six years as president has overseen the Friends' support of numerous programs including many children's activities, museum passes, critique groups, the popular Finals Nights, the upgrade of the audio-visual equipment in the library's Scott Room and many special programs.

Other officers elected today are: Wendy MacMillan and To-Dao Casey, vice presidents; Barbara Josselsohn, secretary; and Mona Longman, treasurer. Also elected were nine members to the Board of Directors.

Gruenberg serves as co-chair of the library's capital campaign, is on the Board of Trustees of Westchester Reform Temple and is a member of the Village's Ad Hoc Communications Committee.

"Dara Gruenberg has been active in many Scarsdale organizations and has been a leader in the library's plans for our major renovation," said Library Director Elizabeth Bermel. "With her knowledge, dedication and energy she will smoothly take over the reins from Kathy Gray. Kathy has been an ardent supporter of the library and has been instrumental in many of the programs we instituted with funding provided by the Friends. On behalf of the library and our many patrons, I heartily thank Kathy for her efforts and accomplishments."

"The Friends of the Scarsdale Library is dedicated to making the library a community centerpiece that Scarsdale is proud of," said Terri Simon, president of the Library Board. "They have been highly supportive of our revitalization plans and we look forward to working closely with Dara, the board and the entire Friends organization in the capital campaign and the transformation of the Scarsdale Library."

Elected to the Board of Directors are: Allison Block, To-Dao Casey, Anne George, Alison Gordon, Lori Harrison, Barbara Josselsohn, Jamie Kefer, Meg Lazarus and Michelle Lichtenberg.

Post Partisanship

worktogether(This is the opinion of site founder Joanne Wallenstein) On the way into the Scarsdale Village Board meeting last Tuesday evening, I heard one of the village trustees, who was fighting a terrible cold,  appeal to outspoken and long-winded resident Bob Harrison to please keep his public comments to a minimum.

But instead, it seems that Mr. Harrison took that plea as a challenge to see how long he could speak beyond the five minute limit. When the public comments period started, Mr. Harrison approached the podium with a disorganized pile of papers and bulging folders ready to hold forth. For the next twenty-one minutes, he touched on many topics that had already been thoroughly discussed, managing to insult almost everyone in the room, including me. In the course of his rambling, he called an analysis of data published on Scarsdale10583 "bogus." Pointing at me in the audience, he claimed that "10583 has published misinformation," and attributed this to the tax assessment on my home.

When Trustee Stern sought to respond to Harrison, a screaming match ensued and it was impossible to hear either one as they each yelled louder and louder.

I was so shaken by being called out on television that I could barely focus on what should have been the headline of the meeting. Myra Saul from Lincoln Road was attending to call attention to the need to protect undocumented residents and workers in Scarsdale. She said, "There is a palpable fear of deportation," and asked Scarsdale to formalize policies to protect immigrants, first by supporting a proposed bill before the county legislature that would prevent county police from investigating immigration status. She said she would come forth with additional proposals in the weeks to come.

Good for Ms. Saul and the others who came to the meeting to support her! This is just the kind of public discussion that warrants our time and energy. We've spent the better part of a year focused almost entirely on the tax roll, while other important issues have been neglected. Let Ms. Saul be an example of what we can accomplish if we rise above petty differences and harness the substantial talents of our residents to move forward and make Scarsdale a model for the meaning of community.

Just consider the caliber of our residents. Among our taxpayers are Richard Garwin, who was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Obama for his work as a physicist and scientific advisor. We've got Irving Picard, who untangled the mess left by the Madoff Ponzi scheme and Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn, who address global issues such as poverty and human trafficking. We have John Harris, who recently wrote an amicus brief on behalf of the Anti-Defamation League opposing President Trump's immigration ban that may have been instrumental in the recent decision from the state court in Hawaii to block its implementation. Among our residents is NYS Legislator Amy Paulin, who has championed legislation for the rights of children, teens and women, and much more. And we've got all of you – bright, engaged and accomplished citizens --who care about the future of our Village and the world.

We have real issues - both local and national - to confront, and if we can rise above partisan politics and bickering we can make a difference.

Just look at what the Board of the Scarsdale Library has accomplished. Recognizing the need for an improved library and meeting center, they researched, visited other libraries, interviewed planners and architects and formulated plans for a state of the art facility. Overcoming substantial opposition, they rallied supporters and presented a workable a plan for a public/private partnership for the project and ultimately won the backing of the Village Board.

For similar reasons, when the Scarsdale School Board got friction on plans to improve the district, the Scarsdale Schools Foundation was born. Their efforts have made it possible for the district to replace obsolete and unused areas of the high school with a new design lab and a fitness center that are already under construction.

What about our empty downtown storefronts? Can this issue be addressed? In addition to what the Scarsdale Forum is already doing, can residents help? With so many top lawyers among our ranks, would it be possible to negotiate with our Village landlords to lower rents and increase incentives to fill the empty retail spaces? With reasonable rents these spaces would be workable for both mom and pop stores and national chains like Sweetgreen and Papyrus . The initiative to build a mixed used project at the Freightway site is a first step forward and I am hopeful that this initiative will also reinvigorate our downtown.

But as Myra Saul points out, we can do more than improve our own lives. For example, in addition to safeguarding undocumented people within our borders we can consider national issues such as gun control and pass local laws on gun ownership, gun sales, gun security and safe storage. As Scarsdale residents Michelle Sterling and Ron Shulhof are already doing, we can support conservation and sustainability by recycling, conserving energy and saving trees and natural resources. These initiatives benefit Scarsdale but also set an example for other communities. What else? It's high time we passed local legislation to preserve historic homes, safeguard trees and prevent overbuilding.

In short, we have wasted the better part of a year arguing over a single issue and squandered the time and energy of our village volunteers and village managers who were forced to spend countless hours reviewing over 30,000 FOILED emails and defending all of us against what may very well be a meritless lawsuit.

There's so much more at stake in Scarsdale and in our country than potholes. The reason our predecessors established a non-partisan system in Scarsdale was to offer a framework to minimize conflict and forge consensus. This election is demonstrating just how divisive partisan politics can be... and how a pothole can expand into a sinkhole.

When you go to the voting booth on Tuesday, think about which party will build bridges and move us forward -- and cast your vote accordingly. Use your voice and considerable talents to make a difference in Scarsdale and beyond.