Central York board considers additional safety measures after threats

Junior Gonzalez
York Dispatch
Central York Superintendent Michael Snell provides opening comments during a town-hall-style community meeting to discuss school safety following last week's threats, allegedly made by a 13-year-old middle school student, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018.  John A. Pavoncello photo

After a head-spinning week that included three consecutive days of school closings late last month, the Central York school board is planning further commitments to school security.

Board members discussed the potential for increased security on Monday night, March 12 — the first regularly scheduled meeting since threats prompted a districtwide school closure from Wednesday, Feb. 21, to Friday, Feb. 23.

A 13-year-old Central York Middle School student has been charged with 15 felony counts for allegedly making the threats against the district, according to the York County District Attorney's Office.

More:At Central York Middle School, a message of acceptance and worth to all

More:Girl, 13, charged in Central York threats

More:Community exhales as Central York students back to school

In a discussion on school safety, district Superintendent Michael Snell outlined some of the headway made since the scare late last month.

Among the changes:

  • Increased hours from secondary security service Schaad Detective Agency starting at 6 a.m. for early arrivals.
  • Reviewed and reduced the number of entrances and exits used at the middle school and high school during morning arrivals.
  • Ordered camera upgrades for middle school and high school
  • The district’s school resource officer has held several assemblies focused on school safety at Central York Middle School since the reopening.

In addition, the district will be hosting a social media safety seminar led by York County District Attorney Dave Sunday for parents on Thursday, March 15, at Central York High School, according to Snell.

The event will include Sunday and members of his staff, along with representatives from MG Tactical, a safety training consulting company that has worked with middle and high school teachers at the district, he said.

Additional officers? After Snell’s recap, board vice president Gregory Lewis said he was unsure of the public’s view regarding hiring additional school resource officers and inquired about the cost.

According to Snell, the current cost for one SRO is around $71,000, and an SRO in each school would run the district nearly $500,000 annually.

That proposition didn’t immediately sit well with board member Joseph Gothie, who suggested the district consult with safety professionals or conduct a study on district safety needs before deciding what to do next.

“The problem is, I have absolutely no idea what actually works,” he said. “I’m very reluctant to go out and spend half a million dollars a year on these staff if we don’t know if that actually will work or be effective.”

He brought up the fatal Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, as an example of how having armed officers isn’t always the solution.

Teachers and students returned to Central York High School Monday, Feb. 26, 2018, after classes in the district resumed following the charges against a juvenile who police say made terroristic threats. Bill Kalina photo

“(Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School) had a police officer onsite, and it didn’t stop anything,” he said. “We may be spending half a million dollars to feel better, but it might not have any measurable effect on the actual safety of the kids.”

Board treasurer Edward T. Blankenstein said he agreed with the need for more information before pursuing additional SROs, but he added “money is a factor and something to be considered” when looking at additional safety measures.

Fellow board member Michael Wagner said another aspect of school safety is adhering to existing policy, which a district resident alluded to earlier during public comment.

“Diligence is the first thing we have to do, and all the other things will follow,” he said, including improvements such as the hiring of additional security personnel.

The district plans to share the results of a survey conducted on its website at the social media safety seminar on March 15 but said the results are not scientific or fully representative of the public view.

“It really was intended to gauge the interests in certain topics” regarding school safety, noted district spokeswoman Julie Randall Romig.

Officers hold mock guns outside Central York High School during the Panther Active Intruder Drill Friday, Oct 11, 2013. Law enforcement, emergency services personnel from all over York County and federal government sources participated in the mock school shooting scenario to develop a standardized response. (Bill Kalina photo bkalina@yorkdispatch.com)

“I would add that we had the most extensive shooter drill ever conducted in the country,” said board president Eric Wolfgang, referring to the October 2013 Panther Active Intruder Drill that involved county, state and federal law enforcement.

He suggested going back to the results of the report to see what has changed since the study occurred and get professional recommendations on what may or may not work for the district.

At one point, Gothie noted the sobering reality of emergency preparedness.

“Nothing is going to be 100 percent perfect,” he said. “That’s the way the real world works.”

No board members stated their disagreement.

Safety seminar: York County District Dave Sunday will lead a seminar on internet and social media safety at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 15, at Central York High School. The event also will be streamed on the York County District Attorney's Facebook page, www.facebook.com/YorkCountyDistrictAttorney/