Residents support having officer during public comment with board

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Tuesday, the Punxsutawney Area School board received more suggestions from the public about the alleged use of drugs in the district, specifically the high school.

Edie Hinkle, Smicksburg, said she wasn’t sure what a resource officer is, but felt something needs to be done about drugs in school.

“Just imagine for a moment a youth sees an officer and a drug dog arrive at school even once,” she said. “That would show that the school board is doing something about the problem, and that students won’t be able to continue with business as usual and are still taking their drugs.”

She said it would be seen as getting something done by people like her who are concerned about drugs in school.

“There was an article in the newspaper that the school board doesn’t want to raise taxes by having an officer,” Hinkle said, but noted she can envision a plan in which an officer and a dog on a fee for service contract coming periodically unannounced to look for drugs. That would require someone to contact the officer and keeping it secret.

As far as a resource officer at the school for fights and discipline problems, Hinkle asked why can’t the staff handle discipline problems, and the staff would still have the police for back-up.

She also asked the board members if they were familiar with a film entitled “Bully,” produced by a man who experienced bullying during his school years and how it affected his life.

Superintendent Dr. Keith Wolfe said that there is a bullying program held by administrators at the middle school.

Also addressing the board Tuesday:

• Chuck Allessie, Punxsutawney, said he spoke to the board a couple of months ago about drilling natural gas wells on district property.

“I’m not happy that I haven’t seen an up and down vote on that,” he said, adding that he thinks the district continues to grow when it should become smaller.

He said grades kindergarten through sixth should be housed at Bell Township and West End, the middle school should become a junior-high building, and the high school should house grades 10 through 12.

Allessie said he was proud that two board members, President Gary Conrad and Jim Baun, voted against the Jeff Tech budget.

• Georgette Pennington, Punxsutawney, said she brought up the need for a resource officer at the high school to address the growing concern about drug use in the community and school district.

“I felt there was a need to bring this issue forth to help our community and our school district in a positive way, not a negative way,” she said, adding that it was not to put down the school district, but to help the district.

“I have two children who attend school in our district,” she said. “I want the district to grow in a positive way, and to help with these children who don’t want to go to school.”

Pennington said the biggest concern is how to pay for an officer.

“One way to pay for it is with grants,” she said. “How will we know if we don’t explore the idea? One way to do that is to sit down and talk with the borough council members and discuss the idea, and I think they are willing to do that. That door is open and I think the school board should consider going through that door.”

• Clark Raybuck, Punxsutawney, said when he was a boy, two to three bullies picked on him and took his lunch money every day until he was able to finally stand up to them. Then he wasn’t bothered again.

PAMS Principal Richard Britten said there are assemblies with special speakers and videos that address bullying and how to put a stop to it.

Board member Bob Pascuzzo asked what discipline conferences are, to which PAHS Principal David London replied they are held any time someone talks to a student in the principal’s office.

“If a student throws something on the bus, and the driver reports it, we’ll talk with the student who was identified and witnesses which could result in 10 discipline conferences,” London said, adding that 90 percent of the work is caused by 10 percent of the students.

There are a number of disciplinary actions the district utilizes: Discipline conferences, detentions, Saturday Support, in-school and out-of-school suspensions and bus discipline.

London said students may be suspended for a variety of offenses, such as drugs; weapons; alcohol; assault; accumulated discipline; terroristic threats; bomb threats; destruction of school property; harassment; and network services.

The yearly averages for discipline at PAHS are: Discipline conferences, 2,494; detentions, 597; Saturday Support, 107; suspensions, 315; expulsions, seven; and bus discipline, 59.

Wolfe said he agreed that out-of-school suspensions can turn into a holiday for the suspended student, but in-school suspensions keep students in school.

Finally, resident Cindy Depp-Hutchinson thanked the administration and the board, which she believes works very hard to eliminate drugs in the district.