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Westmoreland

School safety must start at home, North Huntingdon EMA leader tells Norwin board

Joe Napsha
| Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018, 10:30 a.m.

While one of the best ways to prevent school violence is for students, parents and the community is to report potential threats, a North Huntingdon official said school safety must start at home with parents instilling those lessons.

“Students can't hear, ‘See something, say something,' for the first time when they get here (school). They have to be told over and over again that it is the right thing to do. Parents can't abdicate their responsibility. The primary role for keeping us all safe starts at home,” Gene Komondor, North Huntingdon's emergency management coordinator, told the Norwin School Board Monday.

A culture that inhibits a student's informing on another's possible violent intentions, that says it is wrong or is “ratting them out,” it has to be broken, Komondor said. Students have to realize “it's the right thing to do,” he added.

One of the best ways to prevent an event from occurring is to report potential threats to police, school administration, a building principal or Westmoreland County 911, said Joseph V. Shigle III, assistant high school principal and coordinator of the Norwin Safe Schools Committee.

The safe schools committee, comprised of about 40 people representing school administrators, police, firefighters, ambulance personnel and parents, is planning a full-scale emergency exercise in June, Shigle said. School personnel have been trained in active shooter response and a tabletop exercise has been conducted, Shigle said.

A First Student bus driver, Scott Senchur of North Huntingdon, expressed his concern that students and staff are able to enter at least seven doors at the high school and there is rarely a teacher standing watch at the doors. Senchur said it might be good to reduce the number of doors where students can enter.

Director Robert Perkins, board president, said it was a good suggestion.

About 12 staff members are stationed at the intersection of hallways inside the school to monitor those entering, but they must go into their classroom by the time classes start. School personnel are outside the building with radios that allow them to communicate to the North Huntingdon police in the case of an emergency or anything suspicious, Shigle said.

In response to a suggestion that metal detectors be used at doorways, Shigle said that presents its own problem by delaying students from getting into the building. A person also could enter the building and hide a weapon while attending a school event, he noted.

Norwin was ranked by Niche.com as the 23rd safest school in Pennsylvania and the 156th safest school in the nation out of about 15,000 school districts, Komondor said.

Niche.com, a Pittsburgh-based company, uses data scientists, engineers and parents to review and analyze data in determining safe schools. The rankings are based on an analysis of factors, including a survey of parents and students, expenses per students, absenteeism, suspensions, expulsions, law enforcement referrals and school-related arrests. Data was drawn from the Civil Rights Data Collection and the National Center for Education, according to Niche.com.

The number one factor that Niche.com uses in its ranking system is parent and student surveys on health and safety. It accounts for 50 percent of the ranking, Komondor said.

Norwin was the only school in Westmoreland County to make the list.

Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-5252 or jnapsha@tribweb.com.

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