Highlands School District officials say “disturbing” Facebook posts were the impetus for the district to rescind its contract with a school security firm.
Days after the board approved a contract with Olympia Security Group in mid-February, “various people in the community” alerted substitute Superintendent Monique Mawhinney and other officials to images and phrases posted to the Chartiers-based company’s Facebook page, Mawhinney said during a school board meeting Monday night. Board President Debbie Beale said she agreed with the about-face on the contract.
The posts in question referenced guns and violence with tones and images that Highlands officials determined to be inappropriate for a school security provider.
“They do work in school systems. They need to be a little bit more careful about what they’re posting,” Mawhinney said as she explained the recommendation to rescind the contract with Olympia.
Of particular concern to Mawhinney was a meme using an image of actor Daniel Craig portraying fictional special agent James Bond and the words: “Be polite, be courteous, show professionalism and have a plan to kill everyone in the room.”
The meme appeared in a Feb. 8 post to Olympia’s Facebook page with the text, “It’s the weekend. Prepare and proceed.” The post appeared to have been taken down as of Monday.
Several other posts in recent months begin with a similar statement alongside photos of large guns and knives, James Bond screenshots, comic book characters and an illustration of a heavily armed Santa Claus.
The “kill everyone in the room” item was the one Mawhinney couldn’t shake.
Marcus Staley, owner and CEO of Olympia Security Group, said it was never the company’s intention to cause alarm.
“We’re very professional,” he said. “With the Facebook page, we like to have a little fun with it.”
Staley said posts often include informational articles, quotes and pictures, which sometimes include guns.
He said the James Bond post that caused Highlands the most concern paraphrased a quote by retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, the former secretary of Defense under President Trump.
Staley said the company works with the military and has other contracts in addition to school security. He said it tries to account for all demographics when posting online.
“We have great respect for our military personnel,” he said. “(We have) great respect for the country’s four-star generals.”
Mixed in with posts that contain guns are posts about gun safety, Staley said. He said the company also conducts active shooter drills and other gun safety training.
The company provides security services for two other school districts in Greene County.
Staley said the James Bond meme was taken down after Highlands voiced concern, but he stands by all of the company’s posts, including that one.
“It is disheartening that someone would take a few out of many (posts) and decide not to do business with us,” he said.
Mawhinney said she reached out to the firm about the questionable content before asking the board to revoke its contract.
“At first, I wanted to know, I thought maybe an employee posted it. Sometimes you don’t know. … But (the owner) confirmed it … and he was OK with it, and we’re not,” Mawhinney said. “So we are rescinding — and they know that — their contract, and well, I guess now I’ll have to do Facebook checks.”
The decision comes in spite of Olympia emerging as among the most highly recommended of nine companies competing for the bid.
“We did get very good, positive reviews from a couple of districts they’ve worked in,” Mawhinney said.
In Olympia’s place, Mawhinney said, administrators are asking the board to hire Champion National Security, a Richardson, Texas-based company that touts itself as the largest private uniformed security guard provider in Texas and among the largest in the nation. It has at least 19 offices nationwide, including one in Philadelphia.
Highlands officials said Champion does not have experience in K-12 public school systems, but it does have clients that are universities. The firm also does security for the Greyhound transit station in Pittsburgh.
The need to hire a new firm follows the district’s abrupt decision to end services with its prior security guard provider, Gentile & Associates of Center Township, Beaver County.
Mawhinney said she recommended ending the Gentile contract because she believed it was “time for a change.” She said Gentile had staffing issues and was unable to provide substitute guards on short notice.
Under the proposed contract with Champion, school security guards would make $17.58 per hour in the first year and receive 5 percent increases each subsequent year “without further notice.” The district must pay overtime, or $26.36 per hour, when additional guards or extra hours are requested on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.
Officials did not say how many guards they plan to hire, though Mawhinney said at least one guard will be assigned to each school campus on most weekdays.