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Franklin Regional considers police

| Monday, June 11, 2018, 8:49 p.m.
The Franklin Regional School Board
File photo
The Franklin Regional School Board

The Franklin Regional School Board should not be discussing proposed security moves behind closed doors at this point in the discussion.

Former school director Dick Kearns was right to call out the school board at a recent meeting. The school board is going through the process to establish an in-house, three-member police force. At this point, the district is awaiting approval of a Westmoreland County judge.

It's a preliminary step. The district doesn't have a clear handle on what it could cost or a timeline for hiring someone, let alone interviewing candidates.

Yet the school board is holding its discussions in closed-door, executive sessions. The reason the board gave for one such private session was “security.”

“You've gotten no input from the public about this,” Kearns, a former board president, challenged the board. “You deliberated about it privately, you come out and announce that you're going to establish a police force, and we're going to have to pay for it.”

He noted that executive sessions are allowed for a handful of topics, and only when specifics are involved, according to the state Sunshine Act. Security isn't one of them, although there is a move afoot in the Legislature to change that.

School board member Gregg Neavin said the board has discussed various options with regard to its security plan. He did not elaborate.

“If you believe we have acted outside of the law, do what you feel is necessary,” school district Solicitor Gary Matta told Kearns. “But what I'm saying is that this board is acting for the safety of the children in this district.”

Nobody questions the board's ultimate goal. But that doesn't mean the board can do so in private.

Melissa Melewsky, a lawyer for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, said there's no “security” exemption in the state Sunshine Act.

“But even if there was … it should not apply to a discussion about whether to create a new staff security position within the school system,” Melewsky said. “School security officers operate in the open and are highly visible, with good reason.”

She said creating a new staff position “is one that must be addressed in public, with an opportunity for the public to weigh in before the decision is made.”

But, she added that if a county judge allows creation of Franklin Regional's police force, discussion about specific candidates for those positions could be held during an executive session.

Franklin Regional, which experienced a knife attack by a student that injured 21 people, is right to examine its security. Some will agree with the need for three in-school police officers. Some will not.

But the public has the right to weigh in. The ends don't justify the means.

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