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Stabbing renews safety concerns in Mon Valley schools

| Thursday, April 10, 2014, 7:24 a.m.

Wednesday's stabbing at Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville renewed concern about safety in Mon-Yough schools.

“Events like this put us all in a position to review our current practice and procedures and imagine our response,” West Mifflin Area Superintendent Daniel R. Castagna said. “I am confident that the West Mifflin Area School District is safer than it has ever been in our history.”

Authorities said Franklin Regional sophomore Alex Hribel, 16, stabbed or slashed 21 classmates and a security guard from North Irwin before he was tackled by an assistant principal.

“In situations like this you can never prepare completely,” Elizabeth Forward Superintendent Bart Rocco said. “All incidents like this that occur in schools are different and after such incidents we learn a great deal about how our emergency plans may need to be adjusted.”

Clairton, Duquesne, East Allegheny, McKeesport Area, Steel Valley and West Mifflin Area districts have metal detectors.

Greensburg Catholic Diocese spokesman Jerry Zufelt said any re-examination of procedures for its schools including Queen of Angels Elementary in North Huntingdon Township would require more facts, “such as how the ssailant got the weapons into (Franklin Regional).”

Most districts have security cameras.

“We have what we refer to as a high-alert security system,” East Allegheny's head high school principal Don MacFann said. “We accompany that with physical observations, we have security as well as school administrators constantly checking the grounds to make sure the doors are closed and under lock and key.”

At Queen of Angels, “all doors are locked during the day,” Zufelt said. “Visitors have to announce themselves, usually at the main entrance, be ‘buzzed in' then they have to sign in once they are inside the building. When students are entering and leaving the building, whether it's morning arrival, afternoon dismissal or a midday activity, the open doors must be monitored by a school employee.”

MacFann said East Allegheny has excellent communication with North Versailles Township police.

“Chief (Vincent) DiCenzo is a wonderful person to work with,” the East Allegheny principal said. Additionally, East Allegheny uses an automated system to notify parents “which we use often.”

“A Liberty borough police officer is assigned and present at South Allegheny Middle/High School daily,” South Allegheny district spokeswoman Laura Thomson said. “Our safety committee meets monthly and continually reviews our emergency plans to ensure that our plans are current and address the specific needs of our district.”

“Propel takes safety and security measures very seriously,” said Tina Chekan, superintendent for Propel's network of charter schools. “Emergency action plans are in place in each school. These plans are continually reviewed and updated to ensure the safety and well-being of students and staff.”

Beside safety issues, Wednesday's events raised other questions.

“These tragic occurrences to me point to the need for systemic change from the state level down to address the numerous emotional and psychological conditions facing our children,” West Mifflin Area's Castagna said. “This isn't a time to point blame. This isn't a time to make accusations. This is a time to listen, because in my opinion, that is exactly what these children need.”

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or pcloonan@tribweb.com.

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