Safety first! Local officials preparing for Tuesday’s Public Forum on School Safety
PUNXSUTAWNEY — If you're interested in school safety, then you'll want to attend a community forum dealing with that topic to be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Punxsutawney Area High School Auditorium.
The meeting is a combined effort between the Punxsutawney Area School Board and Punxsutawney Borough Council.
"Following the tragedy that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, we received numerous phone calls from concerned citizens and parents regarding the district's safety plan," said Dr. Keith Wolfe, Punxsutawney Area School District superintendent.
Wolfe said the school administration doesn't just hold staff meetings about school safety after a tragedy occurs.
"We meet throughout the year; we don't do so based on the latest situation that's in the news," he said.
Wolfe said that since Sandy Hook, the district has had meetings with Punxsutawney-based Pennsylvania State Police.
He also said that a recent meeting in Brookville addressed such issues.
"There was a meeting in Brookville recently sponsored by Jefferson County Emergency Services that was attended by area school superintendents and police and first responders regarding school safety," he said.
Tracy Zents, director of Jefferson County Emergency Services, organized and chaired the meeting, which involved discussions regarding how to respond to certain emergencies and the planning of drills.
Wolfe said the district continues to hold emergency drills and that the district had been holding them before he became superintendent.
"These drills are ongoing; there's only so much we can do with prevention," Wolfe said, adding that all of the schools in the district have cameras where visitors are buzzed in after they've been identified by the staff.
He said every school district in the area is different in size and has a different number of buildings.
Punxsy has eight buildings, DuBois has 10, Brookville has four, and Brockway has two buildings, Wolfe said.
"All of the superintendents meet once a month at Jeff Tech and at the Riverview Intermediate Unit (IU), where school safety is also discussed," Wolfe said.
Punxsutawney Borough Police Chief Tom Fedigan said that Borough Council became involved to let the residents of Punxsutawney know that keeping the town's students safe is a top priority and a team effort.
"We want the community to understand we are working together," said Fedigan.
Wolfe said that when people observe a Punxsy Borough Police car doing a drive-thru at the high school or other in-town schools, that doesn't necessarily mean there's a problem. The police are being proactive and increasing their presence.
"I was at Parkview Elementary School in Anita, and I saw a state trooper drive through twice the other day," he said.
Wolfe said information regarding the forum is available on cable, channel 18, and the website at www.punxsy.k12.pa.us.
Those interested in asking questions should write their inquiries ahead of time to allow for the most questions to be asked with no duplications.
Fedigan said the police department's tactics haven't changed since the Sandy Hook shootings.
"My officers have always done sweeps of the parking lot and schools," he said.
Wolfe said the meeting will be an interactive one with a chance for feedback, as the district is looking for input from the community — especially on the topic of hiring a resource officer for the high school.
Fedigan said there's always something that the borough and the school district can learn from the community.
Tom Chelgren has been chosen as the moderator for the event.
"My job is to keep the forum moving along and keep the members of the panel involved in the discussion," Chelgren said, adding that the school district and borough want to keep the event to one-and-a-half hours.
"Depending on how this forum goes, it may necessitate another meeting with more in-depth discussion," Chelgren said.
Wolfe said the ultimate goal is to let the public know that there are active steps being taken regarding the safety of the children, staff and faculty in the district.
"It's not the status quo. Every day, we are focused on improving school safety," he said.
Fedigan said that depending on time restrictions, there will also be a chance for some follow-up questions from the audience.
Chelgren added that everyone in attendance will be given a note card when they first arrive, which can be used to pose a question if they weren't able to do so on the website prior to the meeting.
"One of the goals of this forum is to allow for the sharing of information," Fedigan concluded.
Chelgren said, the panel will consist of Rep. Sam Smith, speaker of the Pa. House of Representatives; Tpr. Jamie LeVier, Troop C of the Punxsutawney-based Pennsylvania State Police; Fedigan; Zents; Chuck Cressley, Jefferson County EMS; Carl Gotwald, Jefferson County Sheriff; Ben White, Punxsutawney Borough manager; Larry Chenoga, president of Punxsutawney Borough Council; Cindy Depp-Hutchinson, a concerned parent; and Bryan Smith, Punxsutawney Fire Department chief.
For more information check the district website at: www.punxsy.k12.pa.us.