Armed officers patrol South Butler schools
In the wake of the Connecticut school massacre, South Butler School District took a cue from a neighboring district and has allowed its school police officers to carry firearms.
On Monday, the officers carried weapons while on duty in the district's four schools in Jefferson Township.
“I hate to arm people, but the world has changed,” said school board member Jacqueline Pfeiffer, a retired South Butler elementary school teacher. “I retired six years ago and, even in the last six years, it's changed.”
Butler County President Judge Thomas Doerr on Sunday signed an order giving South Butler and Butler Area school districts permission to have their qualified school police officers — all Pennsylvania State Police retirees — carry their personal service weapons in school buildings.
South Butler employs three school police officers, two of whom are retired state troopers, said Butler attorney Tom King, who is solicitor in both districts and worked on the order. The third, a former constable, won't carry a weapon because he doesn't have proper certification.
Superintendent Dale Lumley notified families of the decision to arm school police in a statement posted on the district's website on Sunday. Parents were made aware of it through the district's instant notification system, which has phone, email and text capabilities.
“We work closely with police, fire responders and emergency management agencies to prepare for emergencies and regularly practice our safety procedures with students and staff through discussions and emergency exercises,” Lumley said in the statement.
The Butler Area School Board had already approved arming the district's school police, but decided to seek permission to do so earlier than planned in light of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
“I inquired as to whether the board wanted me to seek that same authority for South Butler,” King said.
School board members were aware of the situation, but did not meet nor vote on the issue. Lumley spoke with board President Nelda Burd, King said.
Burd did not return calls seeking comment.
It is unclear whether South Butler's school police officers will be armed permanently, King said. The school board meets on Jan. 9 and the policy likely will be a topic of discussion.
“Everything is so emotional right now,” Pfeiffer said. “We need to let everything settle down and then look at it.”
Butler County districts are not alone in employing armed guards — 118 of Pennsylvania‘s 498 school districts use them, along with 14 alternative education institutions, according to the State Department of Education.
Despite the new security measure, South Butler spokesman Jason Davidek said officials “want things to be as normal as possible,” during the week leading up to Christmas break, which begins on Friday.
He cited that stance when he declined to provide further information about the school police officers' backgrounds.
“Given our efforts to try to maintain a safe and secure campus here, we're really not interested in having a particular story done about our guards,” Davidek said.
The district also did not want to release details on certain security protocols.
“There's a value to not revealing all security measures designed to keep our students safe,” said Davidek, who did note that it has been policy that all school doors are locked and visitors must be “buzzed in.”
The district in November reviewed and updated its “crisis plan,” which includes information on how teachers and other staff should respond to emergencies, Davidek added.
Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702 or firstname.lastname@example.org.