'Nine too many': Spate of violence leads York City schools to weapon-sniffing dog

Meredith Willse
York Dispatch

York City School District Superintendent Andrea Berry said she doesn't want to bury any more students. 

Since Berry joined the district in 2017 about nine students have died, she said, adding, “That’s nine too many.”

If a specially trained dog can find one firearm or explosive and keep one student safe, Berry said that would be money well spent.

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A memorial of candles, balloons, photos and messages of love are displayed for Malaki Beady, 17, at Penn Park in York City, Saturday, March 26, 2022. Beady was shot and killed at the park on Wednesday. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The district is considering purchasing a weapon-detecting dog after York City School Police officials suggested it about two or three months ago.

The proposal is in response to several events, Berry said, though she couldn't point to one in particular.

In the past school year, a William Penn Senior High School student was shot dead in Penn Park in front of the high school, and a 14-year-old high school student was arrested in the same month for allegedly possessing a firearm. As of Monday, the county has had 23 homicides in 2022; 16 of those were in York City. 

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No decision has been made, and parents can weigh in on the issue by completing a three-question online survey by Monday, Berry said. She added that there is data available now from the adults who voted, but the district wants to give them enough time to respond to the survey.

The questions are:

  • How important is your children's safety in education?
  • Do you see the value in the district having a certified scent sniffing dog who is trained in recovering weapons around the school perimeter?
  • Data is showing weapon recovery within a 5-7 miles radius of U.S. schools is prevalent. Rate your level of priority to fix this problem.

Berry said she could not give a total cost for the proposal because pricing for the dog, such as possible veterinarian bills, is still being worked out.

However, funding for the dog would come from a two-year grant the district would apply for, she said, adding that she's optimistic the district would win the grant.

The school board will vote on the possibility of purchasing the dog during a board meeting Wednesday. Details would still need to be worked out if the board approves the move, such as whether the dog would be considered an employee or district property, Berry said. 

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There is a plan to hold a meeting with the public to discuss it with them, but because the district is in the early stages of research, the date is to be determined, she said. 

The district already has a dog in mind, a 1½-year-old named Blaze.

Blaze would train with a handler, who has to pass more than 165 hours of exams and training. Berry said the hope is to have the dog and handler starting by Nov. 1, if not sooner. 

The dog would not interact with the children, their possessions or the school, Berry said. If there was an issue on school property, such as a locker, staff would isolate the area before the dog enters, Berry added. 

— Reach Meredith Willse at mwillse@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @MeredithWillse.

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