Security is a priority for local school districts

State allocates $60M for School Safety and Security grant

While students are adjusting to their new classrooms and teachers, administrators haven’t forgotten about the issue of school security.

Pennsylvania lawmakers recently took steps toward addressing the need for more school safety funding, allocating $60 million for the School Safety and Security Grant Program, administered through the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency for 2018-19.

Each of 500 districts across the commonwealth has been guaranteed at least $25,000 and will be instructed on how to apply for the funding this fall.

Following recent events that lead school districts nationwide to question their own safety practices, local school districts have already taken steps to address security issues within their own schools.

At Mifflin County School District, Superintendent James Estep said when it comes time to apply for the funds, he intends to apply for more than the guaranteed $25,000.

He noted that the district is likely to use the funds to address issues related to the mental health of students “to help kids before they become violent.”

“I want to see the funds used for things such as additional licensed social workers, potentially to pay for guidance counselors, school psychologists and school resource officers,” he said.

Estep noted that the school district began efforts to ramp up security by making room in this year’s budget for two-part-time school resource officers.

The district is having difficulty finding candidates interested in working part time hours, but Estep said they may be able to work out a deal with the Mifflin County Regional Police Department.

Outside the funds that Mifflin County could potentially obtain through the security grant, Estep said the school is continuing to build secure vestibules, noting that Lewistown Intermediate School, Strodes Mills and East Derry elementary schools had them installed as part of the district’s summer construction projects.

Estep noted that even though Mifflin County has been ahead of the curve in terms of school security, when compared to other school districts finding funding is slightly more complicated.

“We’re all doing our best to make it a greater part of everyday conversation in a proactive way,” he said. “We are trying to find ways to create additional safeguards while still watching out for taxpayers money. In the world we live in — even with all the efforts we’re all making — we can never say we’re 100 percent guaranteeing child safety in American schools.”

Superintendent Keith Yarger at neighboring Juniata County School District held its first day on Tuesday and Yarger explained the district would use the extra funds to invest in the School Gate Guardian system for each of its five schools.

“This is a visitor management system that, when a visitor comes to a building, they would swipe their drivers license and the system would then check their background immediately for prior arrests and crimes against children. It also checks for PFAs that a person may have and any other relevant information,” Yarger said.

The superintendent said the system would print off a color-coated badge for the visitor to wear. The color indicates whether criminal information was found and gives office staff information to monitor visitors.

He said the extra school safety funds would go toward the $28,000 security system and that the district is in the process of applying for grants to cover the rest of the system.

Yarger noted that the district is working to address the security issue by installing secure vestibules in its elementary schools.

“We are also addressing cameras in the elementary schools with the new construction as well as remote entrance points in the buildings,” he said.