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Parents, School Officials Decry Recent Violence

Community members, elected officials ask what’s next

By Adam Reinherz
The Tube City Almanac
January 26, 2023
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

Following three area shootings in six weeks, and the discovery of a plastic BB gun in a high school student’s backpack on Monday, McKeesport Area School District board members voiced their commitment to safety during Wednesday’s meeting.

“Safety is the number one priority. Education is supposed to be number one but that’s fallen out and number two for me,” board member Joseph Lopretto said. “This school board is 100 percent on board. I don’t want anybody to even take away from tonight that we don’t care because we care.”

Despite Lopretto’s assertion, several parents raised concern regarding the effectiveness of backpack checks and other security measures.

Superintendent Tia Wanzo said that a group of six adults inspect backpacks “every day.”

White Oak resident Stephanie Graham questioned the ease of entering the building during school hours.

“I sit in this parking lot every afternoon to pick my child up at 1:52 now and I watch people come from the streets onto this campus. They go to a door, they knock on the door, a child opens the door, lets them in,” Graham said. “I don't know what else I can say. I hope nothing happens where we lose any kids on site, but we've had three shootings within six weeks. Those were all three kids that went to this school and we've lost one.”

Wanzo said the district is looking into “screamers” — electronic alarms which would alert those nearby if a door is opened at an incorrect time.

Eradicating every element of danger is “not an easy problem to solve, but as Mr. Lopretto said, ‘it is top priority for this board and district administration,’” said board member Mindy Lundberg.

“You all have to treat lives like they count,” McKeesport resident Keith Murphy said while questioning the board’s response to both the recent shootings and discovery of a plastic gun at school.

What, Murphy asked, if anything, is being shared with the public that conveys, “this is what we’re doing to try to make sure that your child can walk from this school and get home safely without seven bullets in him ... What’s the strategy?”

“I would put a policeman on every corner if we could, but you gotta go to the mayor's office for that. We don't have the manpower,” Lopretto said.

Board President LaToya Wright told Murphy she’s spoken with McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko about increasing police presence during dismissal.

“All we can do is make a suggestion that we have more officers at the end of the day,” Wright said. “This is not just a school board issue, this is a community issue, this is a city issue.”

“It is going to take all of us as partners to figure out what to do next,” Wanzo said. “What the back and forth is is a frustration from all of us. We’re all tired. We’re tired of going to funerals, we’re tired of getting calls. We’re tired of hearing at two o’clock that these things are happening that at one point only happened at night. So we’re all on the same page, we just have to figure out how to work together to come to some solution.”  

Near the end of Wednesday’s meeting, prior to the board approving new drivers from Krise Transportation, Wanzo described the state of district transportation.

“Currently, we have everything covered as far as our district and all of our non-pub charters, outside placement,” she said. “It took us a long time to get to the point that everything is covered but we are finally there and now anything that's added in will lead to decrease the number of waves that we have.”

Adam Reinherz is a freelance writer. He can be reached at adam.reinherz@gmail.com

Originally published January 26, 2023.

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