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Knife incident on bus gives Connellsville Area School District pause

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By Rachel Basinger
Saturday, April 19, 2014, 12:46 a.m.

Communication between parents in the Connellsville Area School District and district officials is important, says the president of the school board.

And Jon Detwiler said he hopes a recent incident involving a first-grade student at Bullskin Township Elementary School and how parents were informed — or not — will be a learning experience on how to communicate better with district parents.

“The whole situation could've definitely been handled in a better way,” he said. “The staff learned the importance of communicating right away. Just because something bad happened is nothing against our staff, but how you deal with it after the fact is definitely important.”

A Bullskin Township first-grader is now in an alternative school for slashing school bus seats with a knife and making a girl feel threatened by the weapon.

Connellsville Area Superintendent Dan Lujetic told WPXI-TV earlier this week the boy held up the weapon to a girl sitting in front of him and “maybe said something to her and she felt threatened.”

The superintendent says the knife's blade was about 1 12 inches and was part of a utility device that had several other tools on it.

The boy was suspended from Bullskin Township Elementary School for three days and will now finish the year in an alternative school.

The incident happened on April 7. The driver took the knife away from the boy when other students reported the incident.

Detwiler and Director Jim Duncan said they knew nothing about the incident until they saw it on the news. Parents did not receive notification of the incident from the district.

“I think the issue was that those handling the situation thought they were initially dealing with a small knife that a student had, so they handled it the way they normally would,” Detwiler said.

“It wasn't until later that they were informed that another student felt threatened, so it wasn't until that point that the whole scope of the incident changed and escalated,” he added.

At this point, the board and administration have put some things in place so the failure of communication doesn't happen again.

“Mike Parlak (the district's head of security) will be involved at the beginning of any incidents involving a weapon from now on, and he will spearhead the investigation,” Detwiler said.

District officials will look at using the Global Connect phone alert system that is used to announce school delays and cancellations.

“It can be used district-wide or it can be set to call just parents from one school or group,” Detwiler said.

Duncan said it's important for board members and parents to know as soon as possible of any incident in which a child could be in danger.

“The No. 1 thing we should be concerned with is not the PSSAs, but the safety of our children,” he said. “People need to feel that we're doing everything we can to protect their children and that we will return them back safely.”

Lujetic could not be reached for additional comment.

Rachel Basinger is a contributing writer.

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