Central York takes lead in school safety as districts compete for grants
It's just a few months until the one-year anniversary of the most recent mass school shooting that shook the nation.
Seventeen students and educators died Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and in the months that followed, school districts throughout the country experienced multiple safety threats — prompting some to take a more proactive approach to protecting students.
Several state and federal grants allocated to York County began pouring in last month, including $25,000 for each of the 16 local public school districts from the state's Act 44 grant program, according to an Oct. 30 news release from York County's Republican delegation.
That money, designated for one year, was awarded for districts that presented good applications, but a two-year competitive grant also will be awarded following completion of a safety survey due at the end of November.
Central York shutdown: York County saw 10 districts affected by threats in February, but one of the most visible involved a three-day shutdown of Central York School District.
The district's schools were closed from Feb. 21 to Feb. 23 after the authorities received information about threats directed toward the district on social media.
A 13-year-old Central York Middle School student was charged with 15 felony counts of making threats, the York County District Attorney's Office said at the time.
Police have said the girl made the two threats because she didn't want to go to school. Police said the threats made were very specific and were directed at the middle and elementary schools.
The threats came less than two weeks after the Parkland shooting.
Response: Since then, the district has been one of the most proactive locally in addressing school safety — even creating four safety sub-committees of 20 people each, including faculty and staff, community members, parents, students and school board members — just this month.
If the competitive Act 44 grant, totaling more than $400,000, is awarded, district officials also hope to fund a school safety director and certified trauma counselor.
Having a counselor on hand would help both students and adults, said district spokeswoman Julie Randall Romig, and the position would supplement the student services team, which is already overloaded.
“I certainly feel that last year, when we experienced our unprecedented closure, that was a traumatic event not just for our students but for our faculty and staff and for our community," she said.
The York County District Attorney's Office partnered with Central York following their collaboration on the February threats to apply for a $250,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice.
The hope was to use the money to create a pilot program for a unified response to threats that would serve as a model for other districts.
'We're doing a lot': However, the district didn't receive the funding, and it also lost out on two state Safe Schools Targeted Grants totaling $45,000 for programs and equipment.
“It was disappointing, no doubt," said Ryan Billet, assistant to the superintendent for administration and a leader in the district's safety team. "We were very hopeful.”
Billet suspects the state and federal governments want to create a baseline of security measures for all districts — and by comparison, Central York is ahead, so other districts needed the money more.
“You have to demonstrate and clearly show need within the district, and quite frankly we’re doing a lot,” Billet said at the school board's October planning meeting.
The district has had its visitor management system for three to four years, for example, while some districts are just now trying to implement that, said Superintendent Michael Snell.
“I don’t want to say that hurts us," Snell said. "It just puts us in a really good place" compared with other districts.
Central York did receive a $37,500 grant from the DOJ for its STOP School Violence Threat Assessment and Technology Reporting Program, which supports technology for anonymous reporting systems.
The school board will assess by the end of the year how much it has received in grant funding before deciding its next move on school safety improvements, Romig said.
Other districts: Here's how other districts fared with recently awarded state and federal grant money.
A $1 million DOJ grant to the state Department of Education will fund training for 70 schools to implement Sandy Hook Promise programs focusing on student inclusion and how to intervene when someone is a threat — including all York City schools, apart from the STEAM and William C. Goodridge academies, the governor's office announced Oct. 15.
The following York County districts received Safe Schools Targeted Grants for 2018-19:
- Southern York County, $18,900 program grant; $59,928 in year 1 for school resource officers
- York City, $40,000 in year 1 and $20,000 in year 2 for school police officers; $60,000 for year 1 for SROs
- Dallastown Area, $60,000 in year 1 for SROs