In Case of Emergency ...
The topic of school safety dominated discussions on Wednesday night at the first Baldwin-Whitehall School Board meeting since a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at an , in mid-December.
Multiple school board members, the district superintendent, a student board representative and a vocal member of the public each spoke on the issue, and the theme was constant: Baldwin-Whitehall, like all school districts, is vulnerable to attack.
"I don't know how anybody can fight against a military assault rifle," school board President Nancy Sciulli DiNardo said toward the end of Wednesday's meeting before also saying that school district officials "need to do everything we can within the law" to prevent incidents like the Newtown massacre from happening again.
To that end, Superintendent Dr. Randal A. Lutz started the meeting by informing its attendants that school administration has been reviewing its crisis response plans.
"There are crisis-response plans that exist for each school," Dr. Lutz said. "We've been talking with principals about reviewing those with staff to really be familiar with those, so, when things happen, (they'll know) what are the responses."
In keeping with his desire to have strong relationships with local police officers, Lutz said that, earlier on Wednesday, district administrators also met with the police chiefs of Baldwin and Whitehall boroughs.
"It was a fantastic conversation, and hopefully, is the first of what will be many conversations of how they can help us get better and what we can do for them."
Active Shooter Drills?
Following Lutz's opening remarks, board members Nancy Lee Crowder and Larry Pantuso asked Lutz when, specifically, district administration will conduct drills for students and staff members to practice responding to an active shooter event.
Pantuso stressed that vulnerabilities in each school's crisis-response plan can't be discovered until drills are done.
"It's great that we're talking," Pantuso said, "but I think, now, we need to have some action."
Lutz said that there are no immediate plans or dates for drills.
Armed Guards? Armed Teachers?
Sophomore and student board representative Jennifer Yanko confirmed with Lutz that there are no armed security guards at Baldwin-Whitehall's schools.
But when asked by Crowder if she would like to see armed guards at the schools, Yanko replied that she thinks that that's "a good idea."
"That would help," Yanko said, "because we don't have any other weapons (to stop an armed attacker)."
Crowder asked Lutz if employing armed guards has been considered as a safety option at the district's schools, and Lutz responded, "While the answer's not an immediate 'yes,' I'd say that we're looking into those things for a variety of reasons—immediate and long-term."
Crowder then said, "It doesn't matter how many armed security guards we have; if you have somebody with an assault rifle who's going to blow their way into your building, it seems sort of penniless. But I just think that it might be a good idea for us to look at that at some point. See what the cost would be."
Pantuso showed that armed guards at schools don't eliminate vulnerabilities when he pointed out that just such a guard—a sheriff's deputy at that—could not prevent 13 lives from being taken at the 1999 Columbine High School shootings in Colorado.
Board member Ray Rosing confirmed with Lutz that district administration is not considering issuing guns to teachers.
Baldwin Resident Has Concerns
Todd Plunkett of Blossom Drive in Baldwin Borough used public comments time on Wednesday to express his criticism of current safety measures at district schools.
Among Plunkett's opinions were that entry to schools is too easy and is not documented well enough.
"Staff does not address or even, at times, acknowledge people entering (a) building," Plunkett said, "i.e., challenge them, say, 'Excuse me, can I help you?'
"If you look like you belong, act like you belong, I'm allowed access anywhere I go. I don't care who I am. I should be questioned.
"I, personally, have walked unaddressed through schools in this district dressed like this (in plain clothes). I don't think that's right. Little kids have said hello to me. I don't think that's right. It should be the adults talking to me."
Plunkett believes that schools' fire and wind drills should be replaced by violence drills.
He said that some of his safety concerns over the past few years have eventually been addressed by district administrators but only after too much time had gone by. He also said that physical measures that he has been asking for the institution of, such as jam locks on the inside half of classroom doors, are only now being looked at seriously.
"I've spoken to a couple of people on the board," Plunkett said. "I've tried to push some things through, but ultimately, nothing I've mentioned has really been talked about until now after a whole bunch of children have been killed somewhere else.
"The only thing I'm glad about is it wasn't here."
Do you have concerns? Opinions on one of the above topics? Converse with other interested parties in the comments section below.
And read through other Baldwin-Whitehall School Board items here.
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