Worst case scenario
Latest school shooting prompts WCSD to review its security procedures
The shooting in Parkland, Fla., and every other school shooting, is a reminder of why schools in Warren County are working to be prepared.
“It has to be a continual effort. You can’t just train once,” Warren County School District Superintendent Amy Stewart said. And, “right now it’s timely to get it back in front of everyone.”
The district will have a county-wide active shooter drill this summer at Beaty-Warren Middle School and will hold lockdown drills in March.
At Tidioute Community Charter School, students in grades kindergarten through 12 go through lockdown drills multiple times each school year, according to CEO Doug Allen.
District and law enforcement personnel talked over future plans, security issues, and information for the public during a roundtable meeting Wednesday at the district’s central office in Russell.
It’s not as simple as inviting one or two agencies when the district wants to talk.
“We’re unique because we’re county-wide,” Superintendent Amy Stewart said. “We deal with multiple jurisdictions.”
In attendance were Warren County District Attorney Rob Greene, Warren County Sheriff Ken Klakamp, School Resource Officers (SROs) Tyler Wagner and Josh Frederoski, Cpl. Jen Bovee of the Pennsylvania State Police, Chief Jason Peters of the Conewango Township Police Department, Chief Brandon Deppen of the City of Warren Police Department, Stewart, District Director of Pupil Services Dr. Patricia Hawley, and District Quality Assurance Supervisor Boyd Freeborough. Chief Todd Mineweaser of the Youngsville Borough Police Department was invited but unable to attend because of obligations in court.
Not every agency — Conewango for example — has a school in its jurisdiction. But, in a serious event, every officer, regardless of where they work, will be called in the interest of having a response available to address a threat as quickly as possible. “Everybody’s coming as fast as they can if we hit that button,” Stewart said. “We don’t know who’s going to be first on the scene.”
“It doesn’t matter who is first,” Klakamp said. “We know. We’ve been trained.”
Ideally, dangerous situations would be prevented or identified and avoided.
The first line of defense at schools is locked doors. Outside threats can be kept outside.
“The facility was designed to keep kids safe,” Stewart said. “You have to let the facility do its work.”
Allen said all TCCS doors are locked throughout the day.
Stewart said that is district policy and invited all of the law enforcement agents to check the doors on district buildings any time to make sure they are closed and locked, and not being propped open.
Information is another valuable tool in preventing dangerous situations.
In some recent shootings, there were people who said they had information in advance.
“A lot of the kids and parents don’t know what to report or who to report it to,” Deppen said. “How many times does this happen that nobody hears about it, but everybody knows?”
“You don’t want to be the person the next day who says, ‘I knew,'” Peters said.
“If you’ve got the question in your mind, ‘Should you report it or shouldn’t you?’ you should,” Greene said.
The district looks into all reports. “If you’re not sure, better safe than to be sorry,” Stewart said. “We’re going to err on the side of caution. I would rather take it seriously at first.”
The district looks into and evaluates threats made by first-graders on elementary school playgrounds and by seniors online. They are different, but all threats are addressed. Any substantive threat will involve law enforcement and end up under the scrutiny of the district attorney. “I want those things to come to me,” Greene said.
If a student tells a parent about a threat, the parent should take that report seriously, ask for details including what words were used by whom, and then make a call.
When reporting, “be accurate and factual,” Stewart said.
The building principal might be the right person. Police can be reached outside of normal business hours. Even calling 911 is justified.
Some students talk to the SROs. The SROs have been in district buildings since October and are building rapport with the students. “They might not march down to the office, but they see you coming and they talk,” Stewart said. “That was part of the goal of having the SROs.”
“We have a lot more kids talking to us than when we started,” Wagner said. Parents can use that resource, too.
Stewart said information about a threat could be reported to “anyone in this room” or any administrator in the district.
For people who are concerned about confidentiality, “they can always call CrimeStoppers,” Peters said. “They’re going to get the information across without their name being involved.”
In many cases, officers will be able to make an initial evaluation based on the name of the person involved.
Bovee encouraged parents and caretakers to be more open and communicate better with the school staff on issues big and small.
ALICE and SRP
Students receive training in how to protect themselves in an active shooter situation.
The district also continues to conduct lockdown drills and ALICE — Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate — training in all of its buildings.
Deppen presented an ALICE and SRP refresher to the ninth and tenth graders at Warren Area High School on Thursday.
In the past several years, Deppen has given the training programs more than 50 times in the district’s schools.
The SRP and ALICE are “becoming common language,” Stewart said. “Using that language and being consistent over time is going to be helpful.”
Allen said staff at TCCS will begin ALICE training soon.
ALICE for parents
The district will open up ALICE training to parents at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 8, at Beaty.
“The intent will be to reinforce how the parents can help their kids,” Stewart said. “It empowers the adults. It empowers the kids.”
In order to get law enforcement some experience in school settings, the district is working with Warren County Emergency Management to arrange an active shooter drill at Beaty.
Agencies involved in a planning meeting for that event included Conewango Township Police, City of Warren Police, Pennsylvania State Police, City of Warren Fire Department, Warren County Emergency Management Agency, the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, and the district. Other entities that are interested in participating include the U.S. Forest Service, EmergyCare, UPMC, and Warren General Hospital, according to Freeborough.