JACKSON TWP — “The schools that have had an active shooter and the schools that are going to have an active shooter.”
This is a realistic way to view schools, said state police Lt. Joseph Glover.
“It could happen here, and it’s going to happen here,” he said.
Glover wasn’t trying to be an alarmist when he told this to an audience of about 50 community members at Seneca Valley School District’s panel discussion on the importance of school security Thursday night. He said this thinking is a way to keep people prepared in case that worst possible scenario happens.
Law enforcement officials spoke at the “Designing Safe and Secure Schools” program held in the senior high school auditorium.
Panelists were school safety experts and police officers: Glover; Jeff James, Seneca Valley Safety and Security supervisor; Chief Terry Seilhamer of the Jackson Township police; Chief Kevin Meyer of the Cranberry Township police; and Cpl. Jacob Jesse of the state police.
Superintendent Tracy Vitale was the evening’s moderator and asked the panelists about everything from school shootings to their experiences with how community members react to them.
One of Vitale’s first questions was about how officers and school personnel have come to work together as mass shootings have become increasingly common.
“While there is a political component to gun laws, that’s not why we’re here,” Vitale said before posing the question to panelists.
Before the school shooting at Columbine in 1999, officers weren’t allowed to be in schools, Meyer said.
“I think (Columbine) was the event that changed how we interact and engage in our community,” Meyer said. Since the shooting and others like it, officers have become a more frequently accepted part of a school’s culture, including with Seneca Valley opting to be one of the first districts in the state to have armed officers in its buildings.”
James agreed that events like Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland and others have impacted the way he’s done his job as the district’s head of security, including his focus on replacing doors and windows so they are shatter-proof and won’t offer the same access as the Parkland shooter used to “let himself in” by shooting through glass.
Although the evening held a somber mood for those who came to listen to these experts, there were moments of hope for many parents who worry about their students’ safety.
The panelists illuminated what kind of training Seneca Valley has to offer its educators. ALICE training, which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate, is practiced at the school district while others might practice the Run, Fight, Hide model.
“It’s an excellent program,” Glover said. “It’s expensive … Any training is better than no training.”
While the district has opted not to train children, Meyer noted that its goal is to train 100 percent of its staff.
“I think it’s wise to train adults first,” he said.
Another frequent question discussed by the panel was regarding why schools don’t give detailed safety plans to parents who may want that reassurance that the school is actively working on student safety.
“You’re not going to give the enemy your battle plans,” Glover said.
Jesse agreed with this statement, saying that revealing how law enforcement might react to a situation would ultimately give those who intend to inflict violence the opportunity to counter their safety measures.
Panelists also discussed how officers try to make themselves approachable to the public and what kind of new safety features Seneca Valley has already implanted and what the district is looking to do in the future.
The last healthy schools presentation will be a screening of the movie “Screenagers” May 2 and will include a look at what growing up in the digital age entails for today’s teens.
The programs in the healthy schools series are recommended for parents and community members rather than children, but child care will be provided for parents or residents who wish to attend.
For more information and to reserve child care, visit www.svsd.net/HealthySchools.