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Freeport board may pursue having security officer armed

| Wednesday, March 26, 2014, 7:27 a.m.

The majority of Freeport Area School Board members indicated they favor having their new in-house police officer to carry a gun while on duty.

The matter was debated at a safety and security committee meeting on Tuesday. Two board members were absent.

Board member Mark Shoaf opposes the move.

“It changes the culture of the school,” Shoaf said, “and research shows that sometimes students begin to feel unsafe.”

Shoaf would prefer to focus on issues more prevalent than school shootings, such as mental health issues or drug use. “I want to create a truly safe environment, not just the illusion of one.”

In February the board hired Robert Lizik, a retired major with the Pennsylvania State Police, as its first director of school safety. He's been on the job for about a month.

The district is required to seek permission from a county judge to allow Lizik to carry a gun on school property. Because the district spans two counties, it will need to seek permission from a judge in both Butler and Armstrong counties.

In the last 15 months, Leechburg Area and South Butler both received court permission for their security officers to carry a gun inside the schools.

School Director Michael Huth said not allowing Lizik to carry a gun was like “only hiring him for half a job.”

Board president Dan Lucovich said he also thinks the school security officer should be armed.

“I know this is a tough thing to do, but unfortunately society has created this and we have to follow our obligation to keep kids safe,” he said.

Lizik said he would prefer to carry a gun.

“The odds are very slim that you're going to have an incident that involves use of a weapon, but in case it does, wouldn't you want someone with my qualifications to either prevent or diminish that tragedy?” Lizik said. “I have the training to know when and when not to use it.”

He pointed out that there were only three times in his 38-year career that he would have been justified in shooting a suspect.

But he didn't pull out his weapon, he said.

“I chose not to, because it was my choice and my discretion that I could take those people into custody without shooting them,” Lizik said.

The board will further discuss the issue at a school board agenda meeting on April 2 and expects to vote on the issue on April 9.

During the month that Lizik has been on the job he's been assessing the security of each building, reviewing and updating evacuation plans at each and establishing crisis response plans for teachers and staff during emergency situations such as an active shooter or a bomb threat.

He will make recommendations on what should be done to make things more secure.

Those upgrades will be part of budget discussions during the coming months, said Superintendent Chris DeVivo.

The school board anticipates that Lizik will work 220 days in his first year, including this summer, during which time he'll be implementing the security plans he's developed for each school.

A portion of his full-time post will be paid for with a $39,500 school safety and security grant from the state. The two-year grant would provide additional funding for Lizik's job in the 2014-15 school year.

Lizik is paid $27 an hour.

Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702 or jweigand@tribweb.com.

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