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Freeport Area to ask to arm school guard

| Thursday, April 10, 2014, 7:48 a.m.

A Freeport Area School District guard could be armed as early as May.

The school district will ask county judges in Armstrong and Butler, which the district spans, for permission for its in-house police officer to carry a gun while on duty.

Although the decision came the same day that a student went on a stabbing rampage at Franklin Regional High School, the school board's action on Wednesday was not in reaction to it, school board President Daniel Lucovich said. He said it had been in the works for months.

“It can happen anytime, anywhere, to anyone. Unfortunately, schools seem to be targets for some reason,” Lucovich said. “Our focus is to prepare the school as well as we can.”

The board approved a job description for its new director of school safety. The district in February hired Robert Lizik, a retired state police major, to fill the position.

In addition to being armed, Lizik would be empowered to issue summary citations and detain people until local police are notified.

He would be required to wear a badge with the words “School Police, Freeport Area School District.”

Lucovich expects a quick response from the courts.

“We don't think the judges will hold that up,” he said.

Board member Mark Shoaf, who voted against the job description, opposes arming the officer, saying it creates only an “illusion of safety,” while not actually increasing it. The presence of a gun has never been a deterrent to violence in schools, he said.

Resident Terry Berg-bigler said he agreed with Shoaf. He said he's concerned about the large gym bags students now carry, and what could be in them.

“Shouldn't some of this start at home?” Bergbigler said. “Things do happen today. We live in a different world than 50 years ago. It's a shame.

“The district has to do mom and dad's job,” he said. “It's not right.”

Resident Scott Speer said that although the district has anti-bullying policies, too often reports of bullying are labeled as “he said, she said,” and nothing is done. Or, if something is done, the victim of bullying is the one disciplined.

Speer said the board should be sure its directives on bullying are getting down to teachers, who don't ignore it.

“Somebody has to be hearing this and seeing this,” Speer said.

Board member Barbara Toy-Gaydos said part of Lizik's job will be to train teachers and increase communication among them so they talk about what they see in students.

“A kid does not snap overnight,” Toy-Gaydos said.

While schools statistically are the safest place for children to be — with home sometimes being the least safe — the district can not guarantee that no one will ever be hurt, Shoaf said.

The district should provide more resources and training, and be more proactive instead of reactive, Shoaf said.

“It's a different world. We've got to look out for each other,” Lucovich said. “You don't know what's going to happen tomorrow.”

Brian C. Rittmeyer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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