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Area Pa. schools get grades for safety

August 13, 2007|By JENNIFER FITCH

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - Franklin and Fulton counties fared well in a new state report on school safety in nearly every area but drug possession.

Regarding drugs, both counties had .21 incidents per 100 students compared to the state average of .13 per 100 students.

Tobacco and alcohol were excluded from those figures.

"It's a community problem, not a school problem. We have a problem in this community with drugs and alcohol, and the acceptance of drugs and alcohol by adults," said Gloria Walker, assistant superintendent of Waynesboro Area School District.

School administrators interviewed this week said rumors and gossip often prove to be the best tools in enforcement.

"As soon as the teachers hear something's not right, it goes to guidance. ... If we hear there's an issue of safety, we immediately get on it," said Joseph Padasak, superintendent of Chambersburg Area School District, which is Franklin County's largest school system.

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In 2005-06, Chambersburg school officials reported just three assaults on students to the state. Fighting was reported at .31 incidents per 100 students, knife possession was .06 incidents per 100 students, and bomb threats and bullying were reported as 0.

Eighteen cases of drug possession or use gave Chambersburg a rate of .21 incidents per 100 students, hitting the county average mark.

Padasak said that chatter about a weapon being brought to school typically results in the announcement of random searches in coming days. The schools use the media to hype searches, which can deter students from bringing weapons, he said.

"We have extensive camera systems in all three of the big schools," Padasak said.

Padasak shared concerns about students transitioning into eighth and ninth grades at J. Frank Faust Junior High School. He called it a "systematic problem" in a district with about 8,400 students.

Children are given individual attention in the elementary schools. When they enter Chambersburg Area Middle School, students and teachers are grouped into "teams" that allow for small group interaction, according to Padasak.

That changes when they enroll in Faust, he said.

"They're basically becoming a number," Padasak said.

Waynesboro, which has about 4,200 students, runs a "Too Good for Drugs" program in all grades and adds violence prevention in the high school, Walker said.

She said students are taught that good citizens report crimes, encouraging them to divulge information about drugs and weapons in the schools.

They are taught that reporting bad behavior doesn't make them a tattletale, but rather keeps everyone safe, Walker said.

In 2005-06, Waynesboro had six assaults and 30 fights reported to the state, making its fighting rate nearly 2 1/2 times higher than Chambersburg's. Its bullying rate was 0; knife possession was .24 incidents per 100 students.

The state report lists Waynesboro's drug possession at .19 per 100 students, up from .12 per 100 in 2004-05.

Teachers have learned how to identify students who are using drugs and have undergone training with the Pennsylvania State Police to spot weapons, Walker said.

"Nothing's ever foolproof, but we're pretty good at spotting them," she said.

Greencastle-Antrim School District reported no fights or bullying. Its fighting rate was .04 and knife possession was .11, both per 100 students.

The district's drug possession, however, was .28 per 100 students, placing it above the county average.

"Our administration works very hard to be out and about and visible," said Greg Hoover, interim superintendent in the Greencastle-Antrim School District.

The school district, with slightly fewer than 3,000 students, will be working with an anti-bullying program this year, Hoover said.

Hoover credited a "very involved community" and student gossip with minimizing drugs and weapons in the schools.

"Ninety percent of the times we have that, it comes from another kid," Hoover said.

Tuscarora School District in the Mercersburg, Pa., area reported 0 assaults, 13 fights, three cases of bullying and one incident of knife possession to the Pennsylvania Department of Education. The drug possession rate was .04 per 100 students.

Central Fulton School District reported a drug possession rate of .19 per 100 students, and Southern Fulton reported .11 per 100 students.

Forbes Road School District reported a drug possession rate of .42 per 100 students, but the district only enrolled 472 students in 2005-06. It had two cases of drug possession.

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