A committee in the state House of Representatives released a report in November that gives recommendations for keeping students safe in emergency situations.

Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, and Rep. Mike Regan, R-Dillsburg, served on the House Select Committee for School Safety, which studied schools' emergency response preparations and made recommendations for avoiding events like the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012, which was the event that prompted the creation of the group.

"I was humbled to serve on this committee," Grove said. "The events just a few states away at Sandy Hook Elementary were always on our minds."

Regan said he was visiting the state Capitol with school students the day of the Sandy Hook shooting, which he said reaffirmed his passion to make a difference in school safety and made him glad to serve on the committee.

Protection: The report highlights several ways school districts can protect students during the school day, many with additional security personnel and equipment.

Grove said he believes many schools in York County are already ahead of the game. Perhaps, he said, that's partly because of the 2001 machete attack in North Hopewell-Winterstown Elementary School in the Red Lion district that left three school staff members and 11 kindergarten students injured.

Grove said a main point he heard repeated in the committee hearings was to ask for help in situations of security uncertainty: Grove said law enforcement officials are willing to assess school facilities to identify any possible gaps in safety.

The report does not add unfunded mandates for districts. Rather, Grove said, the committee hopes to further conversation about school safety.

Funding: The conversation goes in the right direction but still leaves funding gaps for implementation, said Emilie Lonardi, superintendent of the West York Area School District.

"All this is good, but truthfully, there has to be money attached to it," Lonardi said.

West York schools do use many of the security features the report suggests, such as security cameras and panic buttons. Upcoming building renovations across the district will provide security vestibules in the buildings that don't have one yet, Lonardi said.

But Lonardi said with budgets tight, the district could use additional help from the state Department of Education for security features such as additional cameras.

Superintendent Barbara Rupp of the South Western School District said she had initially been worried about unfunded requirements. But her concerns diminished when she read the report, which she deemed "common sense."

"I thought (the report) seemed to be pretty reasonable," Rupp said.

Rupp said South Western schools follow many of the report's suggestions: Each has secure entrances that require visitors to be buzzed in and out through the office in order to enter the school. In addition the schools have security cameras, panic buttons and drills for students and staff to practice response to fire, medical and intruder incidents.

Regan said sitting on the committee helped reinforce several ideas he already had about school security. Regan, a former U.S. marshal, said one of the suggestions from the report is to hire retired police officers to screen visitors at school buildings.

Regan introduced legislation that would provide for those personnel, and said employing retired officers would be less of a cost burden because districts would not need to contribute to the officers' pensions or health insurance.

One of the positive outcomes for Regan was that the committee did not recommend that teachers carry firearms, an idea he said he strongly opposes.

"You're already asking a teacher to be a safeguard for her students," Regan said. "Now you're expecting her to be a member of a SWAT team."

Safety: The House Select Committee for School Safety lists several recommendations it says schools should take into consideration when they think about security in their districts. Below are a few recommendations that legislators said could become law in the future:

  • "Choke points" that only allow one entrance to a school building and require each visitor to be buzzed into the rest of the school by office personnel.
  • Additional security features such as cameras, panic buttons, wireless alert pendants for teachers and double-locking doors. Hiring retired police officers to screen all visitors who come into a school. When that is not an option, the committee suggests a frequent police presence, either with school resource officers or patrols from local police departments.
  • The committee suggests school districts continue or expand student assistance programs, which are made up of faculty members who can identify students with mental disabilities and offer assistance to those students as needs arise.

-- Reach Nikelle Snader at nsnader@yorkdispatch.com.