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Safety & Discipline

Gov. Tom Wolf announces new school safety task force

Jamie Martines
| Thursday, March 15, 2018, 1:09 p.m.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf

Gov. Tom Wolf and Auditor General Eugene DePasquale announced the creation of a School Safety Task Force Thursday.

The group will include government officials, education leaders, law enforcement, community members, school officials, teachers, parents and students, according to a statement from Wolfe's office.

"Ensuring the safety of Pennsylvanians, especially our children, is my top priority as governor," Wolf said in a statement. "I am creating a school safety task force to ensure we are doing everything we can to make sure that our schools are a safe place for our children to learn."

The task force will evaluate issues like funding for school safety initiatives, access to physical and mental health support programs, effectiveness of state requirements for training and security, and quality of reporting or anonymous tip tools.

Charles Ramsey, chairman of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency; Mark DiRocco, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators; Judy Morgitan, immediate past president of the Pennsylvania Association of School Nurses and Practitioners; and Bonita Allen, president of the Pennsylvania Parent Teacher Association, will serve as vice-chairs of the task force.

The task force will hold regional meetings in coming weeks, the statement said. The public can submit concerns about school safety to the task force online.

School safety issues have been top of mind for school officials across southwestern Pennsylvania in the weeks following a school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 people dead. At least 46 threats have been made against schools, students or teachers across the region in the month after the Feb. 14 Parkland shooting— a spike in the number of such threats that schools and local law enforcement typically field.

Some of the threats were made in writing, while others were verbal or posted on social media. In many cases, classes were canceled and schools were locked down or evacuated. At least 15 juveniles are facing charges in connection with threats made against local schools.

Students across the region showed their concerns about the state of school safety Wednesday by participating in a nationwide demonstration. Some students walked out of class while others held silent protests indoors. Others participated in letter writing campaigns to local lawmakers requesting additional funding and attention for initiatives related to reducing gun violence, expanding access to mental health resources or increasing the number of counselors in schools.

Wolf's task force announcement also comes days after DePasquale announced that he would step up school safety reviews of Pennsylvania schools.

"In the years since we began to look at school safety as part of our full school audits, we have found that schools are very receptive to our recommendations," DePasquale said in a statement last week. "In particular, most schools have emergency preparedness plans in place that are constantly being reviewed and shared with first responders. However, we still see areas where improvements are needed in school safety."

Common audit safety recommendations include improving visitor procedures, staff training, practice drills, entrance and exit security, communication and alarm systems, and buses and parking, the statement said.

After the announcement, DePasquale said school safety objectives would be added to all school audits and reviews. In addition, distribution of confidential school safety audit results will be expanded to include Pennsylvania State Police, the attorney general and local police departments. School superintendents and school safety officers currently receive those reports.

Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at jmartines@tribweb.com, 724-850-2867 or on Twitter @Jamie_Martines.

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