Legislators hold roundtable discussion on school safety
DOWNINGTOWN » What can we do to help?
That was the main question to generate input during a roundtable discussion on Tuesday about school safety efforts following a number of school shootings, including the Parkland, Florida school shooting in February that claimed the lives of 17 people and injured others. State Sens. John Rafferty, R-44, of Collegeville, and Tom McGarrigle, R-26, of Springfield in Delaware County, hosted the Senate Majority Policy Committee, chaired by Sen. David G. Argall, R-29 (Schuylkill/ Berks). In addition, Rep. Becky Corbin, R-155, of East Brandywine, and Sen. Andrew Dinniman, D-19, of West Whiteland, attended the roundtable held at the Downingtown administration building.
Downingtown schools Superintendent Emilie Lonardi and Coatesville schools Superintendent Cathy Taschner agreed that personnel are among the most important factors in keeping the students safe.
“Nothing substitutes for personnel,” Lonardi said, “whether they are safety personnel or mental health personnel.”
Lonardi added that there needs to be a “core subject” in school where students learn about mental health and wellness to help students have strong mental health, despite what happens in life. Heather Carr, a school psychologist at Downingtown, noted that there needs to be support in schools and programs in which students are taught about social interactive skills and coping skills.
Taschner echoed that educators need the time during the school day to talk to students about mental health to prevent incidents from occurring. Carr asked if educators were prepared for lock-down situations and Taschner noted that while school officials have drills, nationally, teachers may be unprepared.
“I don’t know if anyone is prepared for: lock the building down. I don’t think anybody is and it’s changed the school experience of children and staff,” Taschner said. “We prepare teachers to teach. We don’t prepare them to be security experts. We don’t prepare them to be trained police officers or emergency personnel. We do our best.”
Lionville Middle School Principal Jonathan Ross said the shortage of teachers is an impending crisis nationwide which may be caused by the stress of testing and academic achievement, in addition to the idea of keeping kids safe by fending off intruders.
Upper Uwchlan Township Police Department Chief John DeMarco noted that one of the issues that prevents communication is that his officers cannot legally be informed of an incident that occurred at the high school, in another town, involving a student who lives in Upper Uwchlan because of privacy laws that protect minors. He said it goes both ways and school district officials will not be informed of an incident that occurred where the minor resides.
“There should be some type of level that we can secure to provide the school district that type of interaction and say (for example) we responded to the home three times over the weekend and they assaulted someone, but because they are a juvenile, the law is very restrictive,” DeMarco said. There’s some hope though. Ross noticed that students have informed adults and police of threats that were posted online. He said that students deserve credit for reporting such incidents. Lionville students reported to police a threat made against another student that was posted on social media last December and the Uwchlan Police Department handled the matter.
“They stepped up and did the right thing,” Ross said.
Assistant Superintendent of Downingtown Robert Reed, Chief Security Officer Tim Hubbard and Downingtown school board President Jane Bertone noted that the students have created a culture where they feel comfortable reporting matters to school officials and the School Resource Officer.
Shawn McGlinchey, vice president of risk management of Krapf Bus Companies, suggested including school bus drivers at some level because they are among the first and last people to interact with students during the school day.
State Sen. John Rafferty, R-44, speaks during the roundtable discussion on Tuesday about school safety efforts. Chief Security Officer Tim Hubbard, Assistant Superintendent of Downingtown Robert Reed and Sen. David G. Argall, look on.
State Sen. Andrew Dinniman speaks during the roundtable discussion on Tuesday about school safety efforts. Pictured from left to right are: Chief Security Officer Tim Hubbard, Assistant Superintendent of Downingtown Robert Reed, Dinniman and Sen. John Rafferty.
Upper Uwchlan Township Police Department Chief John DeMarco speaks during the roundtable discussion on Tuesday about school safety efforts. Coatesville schools Superintendent Cathy Taschner looks on.