District: No need for officer

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Following several weeks of criticism from residents about an alleged hands-off attitude about drugs in the district — specifically Punxsutawney Area High School — the Punxsutawney Area School Board fired back at Tuesday’s meeting.

“I take offense that we are accused of having a drug problem in our schools,” said Superintendent Dr. Keith Wolfe, also saying that he felt it was unfair to categorize the district that way with no real evidence.

He pointed out that at multiple times during the year, the board has expelled students for drug violations, and it expelled three more Tuesday.

“Drugs are a societal problem,” he said. “It’s in boroughs, rural areas, cities and townships, not just the schools.”

Wolfe said when he was an assistant principal at Brookville Junior-Senior High School, there were 18 students expelled for drugs one year — “That wasn’t every year,” he added.

If there is any type of a drug problem in any of the schools, the district is required to investigate and deal with it by law, he said.
“We work very well with both the borough police and state police,” Wolfe said. He also said he worked well with police resource officers at other teaching positions.

“I’m not opposed to the idea of an officer, but where does the money come from?” he said.

The Punxsy district has eliminated teacher, secretarial and custodial positions to save money, Wolfe said, and some districts have hired additional administrators to handle the position instead of a police officer.

On the issue of bullying, Wolfe said many people don’t realize exactly what bullying is.

“Bullying is not name-calling or teasing one time, it’s when a student has his or her lunch money taken from them every day for a month, which causes harm to someone else,” he said. “The public said all these things are going on, and we’re turning a blind eye to them. I disagree.”

The administration will continue to address the negative and promote the positive things that go on in the district.

“When I was a music teacher, I had 150 students, and I had a sign taped to my music stand that said ‘Catch them being good,’” Wolfe said. “So, when I caught them being good, I praised them. Handling 150 teens in a music ensemble — some of whom were only five years younger than me — was quite intimidating. That’s what you need to do, is catch them being good.”

Board President Gary Conrad said the board addresses these accusations seriously, and in a statement, board Vice-President Francis J. Molinaro said the primary concern of the board — as well as administrators and teachers — continues to be the education and safety of students.

“The possibility of hiring a resource officer may be considered by the school district in the future,” Molinaro said. “However, this issue needs to be evaluated at length, and all options considered before any action can be taken.”

Molinaro said with less than two months left in the school year, and graduation quickly approaching, it would seem that any immediate decision on this issue would be made in haste, and perhaps not be an end-all solution.

“We appreciate the concern expressed by the Punxsutawney Borough Council, however we feel that this is a decision that should and will be made by the Punxsutawney Area School District,” he said.

Molinaro said over the next few months, the board will review the issues that face its students, as well as teachers.

“The Punxsutawney School District strives to provide a safe environment to guide students through the learning process and enable them to become productive members of society,” he said. “We will continue to learn, research, discuss and listen to all opinions expressed by students, parents, teachers and all the residents of the district concerning the education and safety of all students and educators.”

Also Tuesday, PAHS Principal David London gathered some statistics regarding discipline and how it’s handled at the schools.

When the high school had its Middle States Review, PAMS Assistant Principal Michael Guidice compiled statistics on discipline, of which he labeled the key indicators of discipline at the high school.

London said he took his statistics and added the last couple of years.
“Like Dr. Wolfe, I’m not opposed to a police resource officer,” he said.

“Certainly another person in the high school to give the kids the reassurance that everything is safe, to help with investigations, conduct programs and talk with the kids is certainly warranted.”

But London said he doesn’t believe that a resource officer is needed at this time.

Almost every year at PAHS is a typical year, London said. And with anywhere from 800 to 1,000 teenagers together in one building, there will be confrontations.

“Someone will take someone else’s girlfriend, two kids are going to disagree over whose French fries they’re going to eat over the lunch table, or some kid is going to pick on another kid,” he said. “As teenagers grow up, they need to learn to have a mutual respect for each other. It is something we promote in our high school.”

London said according to the history of discipline for the last nine years — 2002-03 to the current 2011-12 school year — the number of discipline conferences conducted by the principal’s office has actually decreased from 3,402 to 2,029.

“Would a drug sniffing dog make a difference?” London said. “The last three times, when we had drug sniffing dogs search for drugs, they couldn’t find any, which tells me 98 percent of our students aren’t involved with drugs.”

London said every year, it can be expected that a certain number of students will be suspended and expelled.

“Every day when I come to work, I hope and pray that nothing happens,” he said.

Administrators encourage students to report anything they may hear about drugs, weapons and threats to the principal’s office and, London said, “We’ve been very fortunate to not have a major incident occur in our school.”

“A resource officer: Is it a benefit? Yes. Do we need one? No,” London said.