Officials eye school safety concerns

By on September 19, 2018

The roundtable to discuss school safety in Pennsylvania was more of a “long table” meeting.

Held at Warwick High School on Monday evening, more than 30 elected officials, school district representatives, EMS personnel, and police officials lined up in the school’s meeting room to review proposed Pennsylvania legislation intended to help prevent tragic school shootings and other incidents.

“Shortly after Parkland, I had 80 students come to my office to meet with me,” said Sen. Ryan Aument of the Pennsylvania Senate Majority Policy Committee.
That meeting and others held in the past seven months have resulted in seven new pieces of legislation signed into law, and another eight items of legislation being introduced for passage by the state senate.

Will that be enough to prevent a tragedy like Parkland High School in Florida, in which a teen legally purchased a gun and shot dozens of students on Feb. 14, 2018, killing 17 of them?

That’s what worries Bob Hollister, Superintendent of the Eastern Lancaster County School District.

Hollister recounted a recent incident at the high school when an angry student made veiled threats. That student later posted a picture of himself on social media with a gun. After calling the student’s mother, they were assured that the guns she owned were all safely locked away. Having seen the photo of the teen with the gun and being aware of previous issues in the household, Hollister was not reassured. He debated whether or not to close school the next day. He reported it to local police, who could do nothing because the student hadn’t committed a crime.

“I didn’t know what this young man was going to do. In the end, we held school, but I didn’t sleep Wednesday night, wondering what was going to happen the next day,” said Hollister.
Sleepless nights plague school officials like Hollister, who never know when a veiled threat can turn into tragedy.

More than 30 elected officials, school district representatives, EMS personnel, and police officials lined up in the school’s meeting room to review proposed Pennsylvania legislation intended to help prevent tragic school shootings and other incidents.

As a gun owner himself and former National Rifle Association member, Hollister questioned why guns were available to families where there are issues that could pose risks.

“There has got to be some reasonable steps that we can take to reduce the risk of the wrong students and the wrong families having guns,” said Hollister.

Sen. Scott Martin responded by noting that there has been some consideration of “red flag” legislation, in which at-risk persons are identified, most often by a family member, and the court is petitioned where a judge orders guns to be removed from the home. This has been used in other states in cases of domestic abuse or drug use. Sen. Thomas Killion has proposed a similar bill relating to domestic abuse.

The legislation that has been passed so far covers cooperation between schools and local law enforcement, the Safe2Say hotline to report threats, establishing a school safety and security committee, hiring professionals to focus on mental health, and providing training to all school employees on safety and security.

Legislation that has been introduced would cover reporting mental health issues, providing recurring revenue for safety initiatives, school safety assessments, securing and evaluating youth making terroristic threats, and screening of mental health issues like depression.

The Legislature has already approved $60 million in new school safety funding this summer. The funds of $25,000 or more for schools that apply are expected to become available this school year. Funds would cover mental health services for students, the new statewide Safe2Say anonymous reporting tool, supporting school resource officers and improving the physical safety of schools.
With new funding being put in place, there were concerns about “charlatans” that might take advantage of the opportunity to work with schools. John Baker, Director of Safety ad Security at IU13, suggested that there should be a system of vetting to make sure mental health and safety consultants were reputable and a registry of vetted professionals made available to school districts.
“The mental health needs are significant,” said Brian Bliss, Solanco School District Superintendent, who hoped that funding would not be a one-time grant, but recurring funds for mental health professionals in school districts.

There were also concerns about the state-wide Safe2Say reporting tool that could make it harder for local officials to get up-to-the-moment information.

“We have our own tip line at Hempfield School District,” said Chief Operating Officer Dan Forry, noting that he was concerned that Sen. Scott Martin’s proposed legislation for the state attorney general’s office to field tips and direct law enforcement might slow down local response. Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman had concerns about adding a level of bureaucracy which could slow down response. He reported that he had been assured that tips would be passed down to the appropriate authorities immediately.

Stedman reinstated the county’s offer to work with school districts across Lancaster County to provide assessments of safety and develop responses to safety concerns. Sen. Mike Regan reminded the roundtable that, “This is not a partisan issue. It is not Democrats or Republicans.”

Tools need to be put in place for the first responders, who are most often teachers, other students, SROs and those at the scene of a school crisis. George Roberts, president of the PA Athletic Trainers Society, offered what might have been one of the most chilling reminders to the officials gathered there.

“We are training athletic trainers at schools to learn how to stop the bleed, because most schools have athletic trainers who may be there before EMS personnel can arrive,” said Roberts.
Athletic trainers will be learning not only how to ease torn ligaments, sports injuries and traditional CPR, but the extreme bleeding from gunshot wounds that require “mass casualty triage responses.”

Laura Knowles is a freelance feature writer and regular contributor to the pages of the Record Express. She welcomes feedback and story tips at 

One Comment

  1. Jesse Genevish

    September 20, 2018 at 6:58 pm

    Where are the women? At least half of the people at this table should be women. I didn’t now how backwards this area really is. Then I saw this photo. I’m embarrassed.

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