Several Valley school leaders have said their schools’ educators, personnel and students are as prepared as they can be for what one called a lightning strike that comes out of nowhere in the form of a school shooting.
The continued normalization of active shooter drills in schools and the actions of law enforcement in Uvalde, Texas beg the question: How prepared are local school districts for such a tragedy as the May shooting in Texas that left 19 students and two teachers dead.
In March, the Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit (CSIU) hosted a threat assessment training for school officials in the 17 districts in the CSIU’s footprint. Two days after the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas in May, the CSIU gathered Valley superintendents, school safety and security personnel to discuss the events at Uvalde and proactive measures for schools to consider such as physical assessments, review of current policies and procedures, and communications.
“We reviewed policies and procedures as well as necessary communications in a crisis event such as this,” said Rae Ann Crispell, administrative support director for the CSIU. “That was very well attended by a number of districts.”
From state police walk-throughs to a growing number of safety resource officers within local districts, Valley districts continue to be proactive. Yet, as former Lewisburg superintendent Dr. Jennifer Baugh said, there’s no certainty that it’s enough.
“I think we do as much as we can,” Baugh said. “It’s impossible to guarantee nothing would ever happen because we don’t know what any other human being is thinking. It’s like lightning striking.”
CSIU is one of 29 intermediate units around the state. They provide resources and support to school districts on a variety of issues, including school safety.
Crispell said she cannot speak for any particular school district but provides resources and support to local school districts on school safety.
The CSIU is the bridge for a series of regulations and support services between the Pennsylvania Department of Education Office of Safe Schools and multiple school districts.
“When we get the information we put that back out quickly,” said Crispell. “We talk about current trends and issues districts are facing.”
She said districts are very invested in keeping students and staff safe.
“They participate in regional training, reach out for support to ensure they are meeting and exceeding state requirements, and collaborate across the region to learn from and support one another regarding school safety best practices,” said Crispell.
Last week, school officials and law enforcement personnel in Milton continued discussions about possibly adding two more safety resources into that school. The district had several incidents late in the last school year, including one student bringing a handgun and ammunition onto school property.
Milton Borough Police Chief Kurt Zettlemoyer recommended a new SRO go into the Milton elementary schools.
“I believe any time you can have SROs interact with those of a younger age, that will be a positive down the road,” said Zettlemoyer.
According to Trooper Andrea Jacobs, state police have different safety routines, but work with districts to create plans.
“We have safety plans for each school within our jurisdiction and we continuously do school checks and school walk-throughs,” Jacobs said.
According to former Danville Area School Superintendent Dr. Ricki M. Boyle, the district has reviewed and completed its All Hazards Plan for all four of its school buildings.
“We had the Pennsylvania State Police do a risk and vulnerability assessment of each building,” said Boyle.
Boyle said principals regularly remind district staff to be mindful of security measures currently in place.
Still, many districts in Pennsylvania are in rural areas and emergency response can take some time.
“It depends on the area,” said Lt. Adam Reed, a spokesman for Pennsylvania State Police, told Pennlive in May. “Here in Pennsylvania, obviously we patrol more rural areas and we find schools that may be secluded and in more rural areas compared to more urban settings offer unique challenges. We will tailor our recommendations to what we see. A lot comes down to funding. At the end of the day, we can make security recommendations but they may not be realistic based on the school district’s financial situation.”
Schools in the Valley, across Pennsylvania and the nation continue to add safety measures. Those may be in the form of more SROs, locks for doors and even metal detectors.
At Lewisburg, Baugh said three school police officers are retired state troopers who coordinate with the Buffalo Valley Regional Police Department (BVRPD) and state police. She said law enforcement come to schools in order to review drills and offer feedback on how districts can increase safety.
Some school districts use different training programs. Lewisburg has implemented the A.L.I.C.E program: Alert. Lockdown. Inform. Counter. Evacuate.
“More than 50 percent is about prevention,” Baugh said, who added district staff have to be retrained every three years.
“It will always vary by the different levels. You can expect high schoolers to fight back. You can’t expect that from elementary kids,” Baugh said. “I imagine as we learn from different school shootings that there are updates to certain threat protocols.”
An 11th-grade student at Mifflinburg Area High School said staff announce a location in the building where the “intruder” is. Depending how close to particular classrooms, students will either evacuate through the closest exit or stay in the classroom. When in the classroom, the teacher will turn the lights off and block all views from outside. Students huddle against the walls so they are not seen by the imaginary intruder, the student said.
As a practice, Baugh said students are instructed to listen to their teachers and hide as a first reaction. Students are instructed to run, hide, with the last option to fight.
Baugh said students need to have the skills necessary in order to react to an active shooter in school.
“It’ just like a fire drill. A fire can happen anywhere,” Baugh said. She said she wants kids to have situational awareness.
“A lot of it is pretty much the same in other school districts,” Baugh added. “Police are incredible partners.”