Students, superintendent talk safety of schools in Avon Grove
● By Steven Hoffman
The Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, during which 17 people were killed and 14 others were wounded when a gunman opened fire with an AR-15 rifle, has put the topics of school safety and gun control at the forefront.
At the Avon Grove School Board's first meeting since the tragic school shooting in Florida, several students at the high school shared their concerns about the security of the school buildings in the district, and Superintendent Dr. Christopher Marchese made an effort to assure the students, their parents, and the staff that Avon Grove has already improved security measures and will continue to do so moving forward.
During his superintendent's report to the school board at the Feb. 22 meeting, Marchese noted that it has been a very difficult week for schools across the country as more and more details are learned about the Parkland, Florida shooting—the 17th school shooting in the U.S. in 2018.
Marchese explained that one of the things that he noticed when he visited the district for the first time in 2013 was that security measures needed to be bolstered. He became the superintendent of schools in November of 2013, and by the start of the next school year a number of steps had been taken to improve security of all the district's buildings. Updated equipment was installed to ensure that the doors to the school buildings remained locked. Teachers were provided with access badges. A new camera system with widespread coverage of the inside and outside of the school buildings was added.
Marchese also explained that the staff and students are trained on how to respond in the event of an active shooter situation.
“We have crisis plans in place and we practice drills,” Marchese said.
He added that the district has an agreement in place with the State Police to have officers make regular walk-throughs of the schools. Searches by K-9 units are also conducted.
Fencing has also been installed around portable classrooms outside the schools.
“It deters people from entering into those areas,” Marchese said.
Marchese noted that because the district's school buildings are older, especially the high school and middle school, it is more difficult to make them as safe and secure as modern school buildings because they simply weren't designed with safety as a top priority.
Avon Grove is in the process of evaluating its long-term facilities needs, and the one option that was recommended by a Facilities Input Group, which was comprised of various stakeholders in the district, called for the construction of a new middle school and a major renovation to the existing middle school and high school. The projects could enhance the overall safety of Avon Grove's schools. The Avon Grove School Board is expected to make a decision on a facilities plan later this spring.
During public comment, five students at the high school talked about their concerns about security in schools, with several suggesting that they do not feel safe.
Several students said that the emergency drills that Avon Grove requires them to do aren't sufficient and will not prepare them for a real incident. The drills are announced ahead of time, so students know that they are drills. The drills also aren't very realistic.
Senior Shannon Oakes, who serves as a student representative to the school board, pointed out that visitors to the high school can get inside the building simply by pushing a button and being buzzed in. There is security stationed near the front entrance, but by that point, the visitors are already in the building, and could pose a threat.
Oakes shared a story about how a physical education class she is in recently did a team-building exercise in the front lobby. During the short time that the class was there, two visitors were admitted to the building and were in close proximity to students.
Oakes encouraged district officials to tighten security measures to ensure the students' safety.
“I do not feel safe in school,” she said.
Marchese said that the district is looking at a variety of ways to make sure that each student feels safe and is safe when they are in the schools.
The superintendent explained that Avon Grove has a safety committee that regularly reviews the district's policies and protocols pertaining to safety. Additionally, the district is looking at ways to undo cuts that were made to the guidance departments in the district's schools about seven years ago. The goal is to provide as much support for students as possible, including those who might be in crisis.
“There are a lot of people working together to make sure the children are safe in our schoools,” Marchese said.
To contact Staff Writer Steven Hoffman, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
SLUG: Avon Grove school safety