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Deer Lakes School Board hosts forum on security, safety

| Friday, Feb. 22, 2013, 1:21 a.m.

The fear and concern generated by the Newtown, Conn. school shootings was evident Thursday night in the Deer Lakes High School library.

The Deer Lakes School Board held a meeting solely to discuss safety and security with the public and to get public input.

Superintendent Janet Cirimella and Garry Dixson, director of buildings and grounds and transportation, outlined the security measures and procedures that are in place.

Dixson said the district has asked its architects to review the building layouts to see what can be done to improve security.

Also, he and Ciramella said all the schools will be equipped with Aiphone devices that can provide clear close-up pictures of anyone buzzing the front doors and Raptor devices that scan driver's licenses and other forms of ID and deliver an instant background check.

Also, all employees will be issued ID badges that must be worn at all times.

Nearly all want guards

About 50 people, most of them parents of Deer Lakes students, overwhelmingly told the board they supported having armed guards at the schools to protect students and staff.

Whether that materializes is uncertain.

Bob Gutowski of East Deer, the father of a kindergarten student, asked if it has considered hiring armed guards. He favors them.

“I can tell you that there has been discussion of that,” replied board president Lisa Merlo, who said no consensus has been reached.

“A lot of us have mixed feelings about that, so we need to know how the public feels,” Director Michael Coletta said.

Discussions about hiring armed guards to protect schools have become more widespread since the Dec. 14 slayings in Newtown.

Adam Lanza, 20, shot his way into the school and killed 20 schoolchildren, ages 6 and 7, and six staff members before he killed himself.

Mike Catanzaro of West Deer, who said he is a police officer in Allegheny County and the father of two students, said, “If I'm someone who's thinking about entering a school and shooting people, and if I know I am going to face someone who is armed, I'm going to think twice.”

Rebecca Crim of West Deer, the mother of five district children, said: “I also support having armed guards. The only thing that can stop a guy with a gun is another guy with a gun.”

At Catanzaro's suggestion, Merlo asked the audience who supported armed guards in the schools. Virtually everyone raised a hand.

Resident questions effectiveness

When Merlo asked who opposed that, one person, Charles Robertson of West Deer, raised his hand.

Robertson questioned where an armed guard would be positioned.

“You don't want the bullets to start flying inside the school,” he said, “so why would you put him inside the school? So. where do you put him?

“Anytime there is a gun present, it increases the chances of a gun falling into the wrong hands or being misused,” he said.

Catanzaro also asked if the district had considered arming principals or teachers.

“I don't want to put any principal or staff member in a position where they have to carry a gun,” Merlo said. “God forbid if a child would get shot by accident.”

“I am not a supporter of armed guards in the schools,” Director Douglas McCausland said. “There are many facets of safety in a school. I think we have to be respectful of everyone's opinion because it's not a simple solution.”

There were some people who still have not made up their minds on that issue.

Adrian Gregowicz of West Deer, the mother of a kindergartener, urged everyone to consider all options.

“To walk in with your mind already made up, that's dangerous,” she said.

Try mentoring first

The Rev. Jim Holland, pastor of Transfiguration Catholic Church in West Deer and a practicing nurse for 35 years, talked about trying to head off problems.

He pointed out that the mass shootings at schools have been committed by young men without a father figure or mentor and who had psychiatric problems.

He said the board should consider starting a mentoring program to reach out and help such students.

Also, Holland said people who have psychiatric problems don't know how to get help. He suggested better training for school personnel to recognize warning signs in such students, talk to them directly and assist them in getting help.

“Most professional educators are afraid to ask a child, ‘Are you considering killing yourself? Are you considering hurting someone else?' ” Holland said. “You have to ask the question.”

In the end, Merlo, who said she was pleased with the turnout and the public input, cautioned everyone that policy decisions will not be made quickly.

“We're going to analyze everything,” she said. “We're struggling with it, and you're struggling with it.”

Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4675 or

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