South Western discussing possibility of armed officers in schools

South Western School District is considering armed officers for school security.

If approved by the district's school board, all school buildings will be staffed with the officers at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year.

It's a decision the board began weighing in April or May, Superintendent Jay Burkhart said when reached Friday, June 6.

Before the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in February, the district had one unarmed security officer at the high school, he said.

In March, the school board asked for security officers to be put in each building, with the idea of making that a permanent change as well as exploring the option of arming those officers.

Other school districts also are considering adding full-time officers.

Southern York County and South Eastern school districts are in negotiations with the Southern Regional Police Department to have full-time school resource officers during the school year. 

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Community forum: Burkhart recently announced a community forum for feedback on the potential change through SchoolMessenger, a notification service to connect with parents, students and staff.

Administration and directors are holding the forum 5:30-6:45 p.m. Wednesday, June 13, at the Emory H. Markle Intermediate School auditorium, 225 Bowman Road, Penn Township.

Recognizing the importance of the topic, Burkhart stated the district would schedule additional meetings if necessary.

"It is a big decision," he admitted.

And he said the board is very interested in hearing from the community before making a final call.

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The district currently has security officers through G Force Investigations, which would also provide the armed officers — one in each school and two in the high school, Burkhart said.

The majority of G Force team members are retired officers, he said, and in order to be armed, they will have to complete special training.

They have worked with multiple other school districts in York and Adams counties, including Northern York County, Hanover, Gettysburg Area and Bermudian Springs, either for security assessments, event security or school resource officers, according to the G Force website.

Bob Gano, G Force owner and a retired Pennsylvania State Police sergeant, will be at the forum to give background and an explanation of the training.

District and building administrators will be on hand to gather input and answer questions.

Dr. Jay Burkhart will be South Western School District's new superintendent starting in August.

A welcoming environment: "We really want to do everything we can possibly do to make our students safe," Burkhart said, while also acknowledging the challenge of maintaining a welcoming environment for students.

Whether armed or unarmed, school officers are there to form relationships with students, make them feel safe and be another adult they can turn to for help, he said.

Burkhart also recognizes the fears that someone will bring guns into schools.

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"I think it’s important we learn from our community what their feelings are," he said.

He hopes students will come to the forum because how they feel when they come to school is an important part of the decision.

"I have children of my own, so I try to make every decision for the children of South Western," he said.

However, if the community supports it, Burkhart said he's in favor of the change.

"I think it’s something that the district should seriously put into place, and I would be behind it," he said, while adding that it would need to be reviewed on an ongoing basis.