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School board members respond to security test

October 09, 2006|From Staff reports

TRI-STATE - Elected school officials responded Sunday to The Herald-Mail's findings last week that possible security risks exist at Tri-State area public schools.

A Herald-Mail reporter who was sent to Chambersburg (Pa.) Area Senior High School last week found all of the doors locked and was met by a staff member at the main entrance.

Security measures were developed through past experiences and from security checks conducted by school board members, Board President Craig Musser said.

"When they find things they don't feel comfortable with, they're brought up," Musser said.

Those discussions are generally held privately to avoid publicly revealing deficiencies, he said.

"We had a fairly significant discussion at our last board meeting, in executive session, about security," Musser said.

All but two of the elementary schools have buzzers and security cameras installed, Board Vice President Renee Sharpe said. The school board receives a weekly review from Superintendent Joseph Padasak, he said. The district also maintains "school resource officers" that monitor halls and lunchtime activity, Sharpe said.

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Chris Devers not only looks at school security as a Waynesboro (Pa.) Area School Board member, but as a parent of Summitview Elementary School students.

"When, as a parent, I drop my kids off at school, I want them to feel secure and I want them to get their education," he said.

He endorsed the $40 million high school renovation project, in part, because it provides for a special entrance for the gym and auditorium, separating them from classrooms.

"It allows us to keep the educational facility itself secure," Devers said. "The general public does not come in contact with the general population of the school, which I think is essential."

Washington County

Washington County Board of Education President W. Edward Forrest said safety is a top priority for the board.

"This issue is striking a balance between having a school that is open and inviting to our students, parents and other people who are (coming) in and out, and having proper security in place," Forrest said. "We don't want our children to feel like they're coming into a lock-down situation."

He said he believes the county's schools are safe.

At four of the five Washington County schools that Herald-Mail reporters entered Thursday, they were able to wander freely for more than 15 minutes without being stopped by school officials.

Board member Roxanne R. Ober said schools are as safe as officials can make them.

She said for schools to continue to be more secure, the board will need to have feedback from people in schools, and also people in the community, like police agencies.

Ober said as the county continues to grow, the school system will continue to face more challenges in making schools secure. She said the use of portable classrooms raises concerns because children are moving in and out of the main building all day.

"I truly believe the safety of our students and everyone who uses our school is our utmost concern and deserves our immediate attention," Ober said.

Board Member Paul W. Bailey agreed with Ober that safety in schools should an issue that has community involvement and input.

"We need to do a better job," he said. "We have to take some measures to attempt to prevent incidents of this nature that have been occurring across the country."

Bailey said that increasing security in schools will not make schools 100 percent safe.

"I don't know what measures you can take to prevent things from happening," he said. "I think it's an effort that's going to require everyone's cooperation and a very vigilant kind of attitude."

West Virginia

Berkeley County (W.Va.) Board of Education Member Todd Beckwith said he was surprised by parts of The Herald-Mail's report.

A reporter entered Martinsburg (W.Va.) High School through a side door and roamed the hallways for 16 minutes without being stopped.

Beckwith had concerns about security, including the fact that the reporter said she saw no sign directing visitors to the office. He said it is possible that the reporter could have been mistaken for a student.

He said he believes the school system should consider setting up metal detectors at schools periodically to send the message to students and the community that school administrators want their facilities secure.

Gary Kable, a member of the Jefferson County Board of Education, said he agrees with a previous comment from Jefferson County Superintendent of Schools R. Steven Nichols, who said that schools should not feel like a "prison."

In The Herald-Mail's investigation, a reporter was able to walk through a side door of Jefferson High School last Thursday and wander around inside for 22 minutes without being stopped.

"We will look at our policy and see if something needs to be done," Kable said.

Pete Dougherty, president of the Jefferson County Board of Education, said students and school officials should report seeing someone they do not recognize walking around the school.

"It reminds us all that the rank-and-file students and teachers are not doing enough," Dougherty said.

Kable said some people advocate that all schools be locked down and that a police officer be stationed in each school.

"I think that's overkill," Kable said.

It is tough to protect schools from someone "bent" on causing trouble in a school "unless we make schools like armed camps," Dougherty said. "Then, education really suffers."

Staff writers Erin Cunningham, Jennifer Fitch and Dave McMillion contributed to this story.

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