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Brewster Calls for Armed Guards in School Buildings

By Jason Togyer
The Tube City Almanac
March 09, 2018
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

(Photo courtesy state Sen. Jim Brewster)

* UPDATED at 8:35 p.m. with comments from McKeesport Area School District.

State Sen. Jim Brewster on Friday proposed placing armed security guards inside all school buildings in Pennsylvania.

The McKeesport lawmaker, who represents parts of Allegheny and Westmoreland counties, said the recommendation is just one of several proposals he is making that are intended to protect students and teachers from violence.

Last week, Brewster said he was drafting legislation to create an 11-member Statewide School Safety Panel to examine security at Pennsylvania's schools and recommend areas for improvement.

“Students must be better protected,” Brewster said Friday in a prepared statement. “Parents deserve assurance that school buildings are safe and secure environments.”

Among the first jobs for the proposed school security panel, Brewster said, would be to decide how to split the cost of additional security between the state and local school districts, and to set training requirements for armed school security officers.

Local police do patrol area school campuses and walk through school buildings.

Although McKeesport Area School District officials did not comment directly on Brewster's proposal, Kristen James, district spokeswoman, said a city police officer is stationed at the high school and middle school campus as a school resource officer every day.

The district "is proud to have been utilizing a strict security protocol in our buildings for the past 18 years," she said.

Both of the district's elementary schools are monitored by McKeesport and White Oak police, James said, and the elementary schools also participate in the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, which is taught by a uniformed police officer each spring.

Security guards hired by the district also patrol each of the schools and provide security during sporting and extra-curricular events, James said.

Tube City Almanac also left messages for South Allegheny and East Allegheny school districts seeking comment, and will report those comments when they are received.

School safety has been a topic of heated debate across the country since a mass shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school on Feb. 14 killed 17 people and injured 17 others.

A 19-year-old graduate of the school has been charged in connection with the shooting.

In addition, area schools have been on high alert after threats of violence have been made in several districts, including McKeesport Area and Norwin.

On Thursday, McKeesport Area school officials announced that a "threat" made by one student against another student was being investigated by McKeesport police.

The incident did not concern any of the school district's campuses, the district said, but the student involved may face criminal charges.

On Friday, Norwin School District announced that a 14-year-old student at Norwin High School was being charged with making terroristic threats, recklessly endangering other persons and disorderly conduct in connection with three bomb threats in February.

In a letter to parents, Norwin Superintendent William Kerr said the district worked closely with North Huntingdon Twp. police to investigate the incidents and identify a suspect.

Brewster said a discussion of school safety, both in classroom buildings and on buses, needs to be "ongoing" across Pennsylvania.

“We need to understand how schools are providing protection now, and seek ideas about improving safety standards,” he said. “There have been many ideas offered about how we can improve school safety. We need to be open-minded and willing to consider both conventional and non-conventional school safety proposals.”

Brewster said technology such as metal detectors --- already in use in many area high schools --- as well as  automatic emergency doorstops, police call buttons and other devices are “excellent proposals that would help secure buildings from armed assailants.”

But Brewster said it was “clear” that “we need to have an armed security officer in each school building where classroom instruction is taking place.”

Whether an armed guard would deter violence may be open to debate.

A sheriff's deputy serving as a school resource officer was at the Parkland, Fla., high school when the shooting happened, but he did not confront the suspected shooter. He later resigned from the sheriff's office, according to published reports.

In addition, at least three sheriff's deputies were on the high school campus in Parkland when local police arrived, according to published reports.

Brewster, who sits on the Senate's Legislative and Budget Finance Committee, said he will ask its chairperson to direct the committee to collect data on school safety procedures and practices, and report back to the General Assembly by Dec. 31.

“Many schools have implemented security procedures and strategies that could be used by other schools to better protect students when there are threats,” he said. 

The stateide school safety panel, once created, would meet regularly to study new ideas, technologies and strategies, and then make recommendations to school districts and the General Assembly, Brewster said.

“The recent accounts of horrific school shootings where students have been killed or wounded by armed assailants should prompt action by lawmakers,” he said.

Originally published March 09, 2018.

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