News Column

Pennsylvania Remembers Lessons from Amish School Shooting

Dec. 16, 2012

On Oct. 2, 2006, a man entered an Amish school in Nickel Mines, Lancaster County, and shot dead five schoolgirls and wounded six others.

That incident prompted the state Auditor General's Office to institute annual reviews of safety procedures at Pennsylvania's more than 700 public school districts, private and charter schools and vocational-technical centers in an effort to help those schools protect their students.

After Friday's mass shooting at a school in Newtown, Conn., Jack Wagner said he hopes all school officials will review their safety procedures, and also recommit themselves to making security of students their top priority.

"I don't think we're where we need to be," Wagner said, "especially when something happens such as the tragedy in Connecticut.

"Safety and security in the school system has to begin at the top," the auditor general told the Centre Daily Times. "That means the school board, the superintendent and the principals. Security and safety have to be the mindset of leaders in the school system. Then it permeates through the district."

In 2007, Wagner's office presented a list of practices it believed all school districts should have in place, including:

--Having a strict identification and admission policy for school visitors;

-- Restricting school access to a single entry point that is monitored and controlled;

-- Producing, reviewing and testing of a comprehensive safety plan;

-- Having a safety officer on site;

-- Establishing a memorandum of understanding with local police for reporting of any acts of violence on or near school property.

"Even a parent entering a school should not be permitted to freely walk to wherever their child is," Wagner said.

Wagner said school safety measures have improved since 2007, but his office still sees a disparity across districts concerning the lengths to which they have gone to provide security.

Some have in place metal-detectors and heavy barriers at entryways. Most do have locked doors and video cameras, and require identification for access.

"Those measures are the jurisdiction of the individual school districts," he said. "Some have taken it to a higher level. The degree of security generally relates to the environment of the area in which the school is located, and the resources of the school district."

Wagner said he has seen "a genuine interest in making schools safer," but added: "It remains an issue we should all be talking about."


Distributed by MCT Information Services

Source: (c) 2012 the Centre Daily Times (State College, Pa.)

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