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Chester County Press

Major issues addressed at Avon Grove School Board meeting

05/02/2024 12:39PM ● By Colleen Cochran

The Avon Grove School Board meeting held on April 25, with all members in attendance, began with a statement read by Bonnie Wolff, school board president, concerning the Avon Grove School District’s response to a recent school safety incident. 

Parents and community viewers of the meeting only learned through that board statement that a school incident had occurred, but they did not learn the specifics of the event. The nature of the incident was later brought to light during the public comment period, which occurred at the end of the meeting.

The statement informed the community that the Avon Grove School District is “constrained by state and federal student and child privacy laws from providing public details on any possible charges or investigation status by the state police.” It also relayed that the well-being of the community is a priority, assistance would be offered to students who were distressed, and that the district is working to refine communication procedures.

During the public comment period, one parent described the occurrence at issue. She said that on April 11, a school counselor learned that two 14-year-old Middle School students had devised a student hit list. On April 12, that list came to the attention of school administrators via email. 

The parent said that, according to local news, the Pennsylvania State Police were not informed about the hit list until April 16, and that it was only after the police reached out to the school administration that administrators sent a message out to Avon Grove Middle School families and the community. 

She said, “The school was put on notice about the threats against students almost a week before any action was taken to protect our children.”

Another parent who spoke, a father of a daughter who attends the middle school, said it was his daughter, not the school, that informed him on April 16 that she learned her name was on that list. 

He said, “The school district’s lack of communication is beyond belief.”

He also stated that the school never alerted the Pennsylvania State Police — he did. 

The alleged perpetrators of the list were taken into custody on April 17 and charged with making terroristic threats, harassment by communication, simple assault by physical menace, and recklessly endangering another person. 

All students and staff of the middle school are unharmed, and the Pennsylvania State Police has confirmed that the school buildings are safe, and that, as of this time, there is no active or ongoing threat. The police department has stated in writing that it will continue to support the Avon Grove School District.

During the Avon Grove School Board meeting, the committee of the whole budget report included information about the district’s long-range financial plan and announced that safety and security are slated to be the biggest expenditures over the next five years. The budget expenditures for the 2024-25 school year includes $1.62 million in numerous capital safety and security enhancements and an increased investment in mental health support systems for students. 

The safety and security expenditures will include the hiring of a director of school safety, a position that has been contracted through the Chester County Intermediate Unit, and the hiring of a director of school safety and security specialist/school police officer. Both positions will be plain-clothed, and those individuals will focus on building positive relationships with students.

In regard to mental health services, the district will continue to employ three mental health therapists and contract with a local counseling service provider to offer school-based mental health counseling for students, with parental consent.

It was also announced during the budget report that, despite the capital projects expenses for safety and security systems, and despite the expenses for the salaries of additional teachers, athletic trainers, and other staff, the homeowners in Avon Grove School District can expect to see no tax increase this year.

Rick Dumont, board member, commented on the 0% tax increase. He said, “I want to thank both Dr. Marchese (superintendent of Avon Grove schools) and Mr. Carsley (the district’s director of business administration/CFO) and their entire teams for all their hard work to make this happen. It’s not easy to build a brand new high school and to do the renovations that we did to the former high school to make it a middle school, and yet, achieve a “zero” tax increase. The community should be proud.” 

In academic news, the Avon Grove School Board has approved two programs that will enable high school students to obtain college credits. 

The first program, the PRIZE Program, a partnership with West Chester University, will allow seniors in the 2024-25 school year, and juniors too during the 2025-26 school year, to take one class per semester online, with a possible summer offering in person at the university. Successful completion of this program could lead to admission to one of West Chester University’s education majors.

The second program, a partnership with Delaware County Community College was opened to juniors and seniors in January, and it allows their enrollment in up to three college courses per semester. The Avon Grove students enrolled in this program can take the college classes in person at Chester County Technical College High School in Pennock’s Bridge, with transportation provided by the district. The program will allow students to earn up to 38 credits free of cost over two years, and West Chester University will accept all of the credits earned through the program.