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Chester County Press

Large crowd turns out to discuss safety of schools in Oxford

04/24/2018 01:27PM ● By Steven Hoffman

From Los Angeles to Nashville, from Mount Pleasant, Michigan to Parkland, Florida, there have already been 20 shootings at U.S. schools in 2018. The Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which left 14 students and three adults dead in Parkland, Florida created shockwaves that still reverberate as communities large and small grapple with the weighty issue of school violence.

Parents want to know that their children are safe in schools, and in the aftermath of the Parkland school shooting, concerns about student safety are at the forefront.

A large crowd turned out at the April 17 Oxford School Board meeting to share their concerns about the safety of schools and student safety following a recent incident at the high school. While no students or staff were in danger at any point, parents told the school board and the school district's administration that there should be better communications between the school district and parents.

In the absence of information from the district, several parents said, they are then left to getting their information from Social Media, which can be inaccurate. Instead of calming parents' fears, rumors on Social Media can make the problem worse.

Oxford Area School District superintendent David Woods emphasized that the students and staff were safe at all times, and the Pennsylvania State Police were contacted right away. As the school district works with law enforcement to address the situation, there are protocols to follow. In this instance, Woods said, the district was prohibited from making a general announcement.

Several parents said that the lack of communication led to unnecessary worries for parents and the students alike.

Chris Coverly, a police officer with the Oxford Police Department who has a child in the school district, said that while the high school is not in the Oxford Borough Police Department’s jurisdiction, he knew some details of the recent incident and believed that the school district responded appropriately to it.

“I felt that the school board and staff did what they were supposed to do,” Coverly said. He also supported Woods’ comments about protocols being followed.

“It's for everyone's safety that protocols be followed,” Coverly said.

School board president Joseph Tighe assured those in attendance that the safety of staff and teachers is of the utmost importance. He noted that some of the school board members have children who attend the schools, and the safety of everyone is a priority.

“I assure you,” Tighe said, “the kids are safe in the schools.” He noted that the state police were involved in handling the incident from the very beginning.

Some questions were also raised about what the Oxford Area School District plans to do in the future to increase the safety of schools.

Woods noted that the district has arranged numerous training sessions for the staff. The district upgraded its interior and exterior cameras, and can monitor almost all the property. Oxford also has school police officers trained to identify potential safety threats.

Additionally, Oxford works closely with local and county law enforcement officials to have plans for emergency responses. Those plans are, for obvious reasons, not shared with the general public.

In the aftermath of the shooting in Parkland, Florida, the Chester County District Attorney’s office issued a press release on behalf of the Police Chiefs Association and Department of Emergency Services detailing how Chester County law enforcement is prepared for an active shooter incident, even though the hope is that there will never be an active shooter in a school.

The preparation begins with monitoring and prevention. Local law enforcement agencies spend a significant amount of time monitoring and preventing potential threats, including following up on information about individuals who have threatened violence. Chester County law enforcement works with local, state, and federal agencies at all levels to monitor and prevent active shooters.

If an active shooter incident occurs, the press release explained, all 46 law enforcement agencies in Chester County have received the same training: “The first officer to arrive at the scene immediately enters the building, finds the shooter, and neutralizes the threat. The officers do not wait for back-up and do not hesitate. Every second that goes by represents another life potentially lost. Depending on where you are in Chester County, a local police officer will be on the scene as quickly as 90 seconds after the initial 911 call. During such a shooting incident, jurisdictional lines do not matter. The nearest police officer from any area will respond, and police will keep responding from all over until the threat is neutralized.”

The Chester County Police Chiefs Association and District Attorney’s Office created a working group in 2012 to address this issue and form a detailed response plan. The Chiefs Association and District Attorney then sponsored and ran live training for every police officer in Chester County to confront and neutralize an active shooter immediately.

According to the press release, Police Chief Gerald Simpson of the Southern Chester County Regional Police Department and the Chester County SWAT teams were key leaders in creating and implementing this program. The officers have been instructed, drilled, recorded, critiqued, and drilled again on how to respond. This training continues every year.

The Chester County Department of Emergency Services has worked with local law enforcement to create plans to deal with a mass casualty event. After a shooter has been neutralized by the police, the first priority will be medical treatment for the injured. Then there will be crime scene issues, interviews of survivors, reunification with families, addressing the media, traffic management, and numerous other logistical details. The Department of Emergency Services runs a full-scale mock event or table top exercise for everybody to practice, review their roles, and address any problems. The Department of Emergency Services also works directly with schools to do vulnerability assessments, emergency response planning, training for teachers and staff, and providing funding for school safety issues like creating remote access for law enforcement to school security cameras.