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Safety & Discipline

Schools react to Florida school shooting, threats in W.Pa. districts

Jamie Martines
| Friday, Feb. 16, 2018, 2:39 p.m.
Thousands of mourners hold candles during a candlelight vigil for the victims of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 15, 2018.
AFP/Getty Images
Thousands of mourners hold candles during a candlelight vigil for the victims of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 15, 2018.

Area schools are taking extra security measures and talking to students about emergency plans following a shooting in South Florida and possible threats at local schools.

Greensburg Salem School District administrators were in touch with local police early Friday to coordinate additional police presence at district schools, Superintendent Eileen Amato said.

Although officers typically patrol district buildings and grounds and interact with students in spaces like the cafeteria and playgrounds, an extra officer was added Friday in case students felt the need to talk to someone, Amato said.

Students are reminded year-round that if they see something, they should say something, she added.

“It just means that if kids see something that makes them feel uncomfortable, or causes them to worry, they share that with an adult,” she said.

Penn Trafford schools also had a stronger police presence Friday, a district secretary confirmed.

Although no threat was reported, Plum Borough School District was on an “external lockdown” Friday, meaning all external doors remain locked and checked regularly. No one was permitted to enter schools without an appointment, according to a letter posted to the district website.

In the Belle Vernon Area School District, technology department staff worked with administrators this week to expedite the launch of an anonymous, online tip line that students and parents can use to report concerns, such as about bullying, fights, vandalism, safety or other student needs, technology director Greg Steeber said.

Although the tip line was one of many options the district had been considering, Steeber said the shooting in Florida motivated them to take action right away.

“This is just one thing, I think, that we could add to the list to make things safer,” he said.

Tips will not trigger an immediate emergency response, he said. Any emergencies should still be reported to authorities.

The launch of the tip line was outlined in a letter to Belle Vernon Area families this week.

Belle Vernon Area did not have increased security presence, Superintendent John Wilkinson said. Administrators were reminded to keep up their due diligence: The best way to find out how a student is doing is to ask the student, Wilkinson said.

“We make sure our kids are OK, and they tell you if they're not,” he said, adding that communicating directly with students is something they try to do daily, not just when there's a tragedy somewhere else.

A letter sent Friday to parents with students in the Mt. Pleasant Area School District is intended to emphasize the importance of communication and reporting anything threatening or suspicious, Superintendent Timothy Gabauer said.

“The message will serve as a reminder that we are always here for them and encourage them to report anything they see or hear that is potentially dangerous to anyone,” Gabauer said.

The Franklin Regional School District was closed Friday because a 17-year-old student posted an image to Snapchat showing a hand holding a gun with the caption, “It's almost time.”

The student, who was not identified, will be taken for a mental health evaluation and likely will not be charged with a crime, Murrysville Police Chief Thomas Seefeld said.

Monroeville police on Friday arrested a Gateway High School student after a threat was made on social media referencing the recent school shooting in Florida.

In a letter posted on the district's website, Gateway Superintendent Bill short said the student was removed from the building. A district secretary said the school remained open and was not put into lockdown.

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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