All together on the same page: Officials discuss school safety

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Safety First! was the theme for the community forum on school security that was held Tuesday evening in the Punxsutawney Area High School Auditorium. The moderator for the panel discussion was Tom Chelgren, retired Pennsylvania State Police officer.

Chelgren said the key component in the forum was the word safety.

The other moderators — Cindy Depp-Hutchinson and Brian Smith — took care of the questions that were brought to the table, which were written on 3x5 index cards or taken 
from the submissions on the website.

Chelgren began the panel introductions with State Rep. Sam Smith, speaker of the House of Representatives, who was the first to speak.

Smith said he really appreciated the opportunity to speak in the community forum.

"I can tell you what legislation the legislature is working on regarding school security and safety issues at this time," Smith said. "I was asked to convey some of the legislation that State Sen. Joe Scarnati, president pro-tempore of the Pennsylvania State Senate is introducing over there.

"In the broad spectrum, I think there has been a wide range of ideas being kicked around," Smith said, "including what the other school boards are talking about at the school district level and trying to get the best reading on what direction we should go based on what other school districts are doing in regards to school safety."

Smith said Scarnati's legislation, specifically, is for an appropriation in a grant program to 
help supplement the cost of providing for a school resource officer or some other armed person in the school building for basic security.

"The one thing that might be unique about Scarnati's legislation is that it could be extended to municipalities," Smith said, adding that they may also be able to work out an arrangement between the local police to provide services to the schools.

"The bulk of the focus in Harrisburg has been on the school resource officer," he said.

He said there is discussion on making it harder to enter a school building regarding security doors. Other factors are also under discussion.

"There's a little bit of discussion concerning teachers and administrators being permitted to be armed in the school building," Smith said. "Candidly, my own opinion is the type of training that is necessary to handle a gun safely is one thing. The type of training the municipal and state police go through, they are prepared to use a gun on another individual if he or she is creating a situation," he said.

Smith said there isn't much top-level interest in to mandate school officials and teachers carrying firearms.

"I won't tell you that a mandate may never occur," he said.

He said there are two resolutions currently on the table — one in the senate and one in the house.

For the rest of the story on the forum, see Thursday's print edition of The Spirit.