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Valley News Dispatch

New Ken-Arnold parents frustrated by district silence on 'unexpected event'

Matthew Medsger
| Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017, 10:27 p.m.
A standing-room-only crowd filled the New Kensington-Arnold board room Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017, after it was revealed an 'unexpected event' occurred at a district elementary school on Dec. 14.
Matthew Medsger | Tribune-Review
A standing-room-only crowd filled the New Kensington-Arnold board room Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017, after it was revealed an 'unexpected event' occurred at a district elementary school on Dec. 14.

A standing room only crowd of concerned parents demanded answers from the New Kensington-Arnold School Board Thursday about an "unexpected event" that occurred at Martin Elementary School on Dec. 14.

They got none.

The district issued a press release on the matter ahead of their 7 p.m. meeting, a full week after the incident.

In that release, and during their meeting, board members refused to reveal the nature of the incident, citing privacy concerns, other than to say it involved a minor student, that police were investigating and that officials had responded in accordance with district policy and the law.

District officials referred to the incident only as an "unexpected event."

Superintendent John Pallone stressed, while pounding the desk in front of him for emphasis, that at no time were any students in danger.

"In this particular circumstance no one — no student, no staff member and no member of the public — was in any danger, none whatsoever," Pallone said.

Board members said they already are discussing ways to update their security protocols to prevent such an incident from occurring in the future, without giving any hints as the nature of the incident.

Parents, many of whom alleged that the incident involved a loaded handgun coming into the school in a student's backpack, were not satisfied with the board's position.

Some parents said that the board's silence on the matter for more than a week following the incident left them with no option but to keep their children home from school out of concern for their safety.

Ashley Pfaff was one of those parents. Pfaff said she has kept her daughter home from school since the incident last Thursday and that, until she is made aware of what preventative changes to the district security policy have occurred, she won't feel comfortable letting her daughter into a district building.

"My issue is this statement was released today. It could have been released last week," she said. "Why weren't we told on Thursday? Why, when all the phone calls can be sent out for everything else, why were we not notified on Thursday that there was a failure in our security that a loaded gun got brought into the class room and sat there with our children?"

Pfaff told the board that New Kensington police informed her that the incident involved a gun. Police have not responded to reporters' requests for comment on the incident since it occurred.

"Why weren't any parents notified until seven days later?" Pfaff demanded.

School Board President Bob Pallone told her only that the school district "followed protocol."

Matthew Farnath of Arnold said his child hasn't been to school since Thursday, either.

"How long was the weapon on school premises before it was retrieved?" he asked.

Board Solicitor Anthony Vigilante said only that privacy and concerns over the rights of the student involved prevented the board from answering Farnath's question.

Chris Martin said her grandchildren attend the school and that she didn't believe the board's efforts to protect student privacy precluded them from informing parents about what happens in the district.

"Parents should be notified of issues concerning their children, especially little children who are very vulnerable to what they see, hear and understand," Martin told the board.

One parent, Lori River of New Kensington, said she has been considering moving her daughter to another school since learning of the incident.

"At this point, I'm looking at sending her to private school. This is very frustrating to me that this happened in (my daughter's) class room," River said. "It's heartbreaking that something like this happened."

Matthew Medsger is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-226-4675, mmedsger@tribweb.com, or on Twitter @matthew_medsger.

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