Establishing sound school security is a multi-layered and collaborative process, several speakers made clear during an Aug. 10 Council Rock School District community forum on school safety and security at Newtown Middle School in Newtown Township.
The event was held less than three months after the latest mass school shootings on May 24 that killed 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. It was the first of what Council Rock Superintendent Dr. Andrew Sanko hopes are monthly community forums on various topics throughout the 2022-23 academic year.
Safety and security was the first community forum topic because it was the No. 1 priority identified by respondents to a May survey done in connection with the search for a new superintendent before Sanko got the job, he explained.
“It was the No. 1 topic on the minds of our community and the No. 1 topic for us as well,” he said at the Aug. 10 forum.
During the event attended by about 70 people, Council Rock administrators and others went over all the ways the district tries to prevent an active shooter incident or other emergency, and also how such a scenario would be handled if it actually happened.
Michael Fiore, one of three social workers in the district, said that Council Rock has a network of social workers, school psychologists, guidance counselors, nurses and others who can help with mental, social and emotional issues before they potentially lead to violence. The district also partners with several outside organizations including the Network of Victim Assistance, The Council of Southeast Pennsylvania and others to help in that area, Fiore added.
Bucks County Deputy District Attorney Megan Stricker said all county schools use the Safe2Say system mandated by the state in 2018. It trains students and staff on ways to spot troublesome behavior and gives them an anonymous way via online or a phone app to report such behavior to authorities.
Among the physical safeguards used at all Council Rock schools are secure vestibule entrances, locked classrooms, lots of surveillance cameras, cybersecurity and the RAPTOR system that requires all visitors to present driver’s licenses and be issued passes before being admitted to the main part of any school, Council Rock Information Technology Director Matt Frederickson said.
“There is consistent messaging to staff and students to not prop open doors,” added Director of Secondary Education Albert Funk.
Council Rock employs the ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) active shooter protocol. It’s controversial in some circles because, among many other provisions, it advocates for shouting, throwing objects at and otherwise distracting an active shooter when no other option gives better odds for survival.
“Evacuation is always the primary option when possible,” Holland Middle School Assistant Principal Timothy Keddie said. “It (ALICE) allows students and staff to pick a response option most appropriate to the situation. As a district, we are very more prepared for a critical incident now than before the rollout of ALICE in 2018.”
Council Rock has school resource officers at both its high schools, Council Rock North and South. The SROs are officers from the Northampton Township (for CR South) and Newtown Township (for CR North) police departments who are assigned full time to the two high schools.
In addition, the district has eight security officers (one spends half the time on other duties), with each assigned to a particular school, Sanko said. He added that Council Rock has a close working relationship with each of the four police departments that cover district schools and holds monthly meetings with the departments to talk about safety and ways to improve it.
The Aug. 10 forum concluded with district administrators taking turns answering security-related emailed questions from residents. The event can be viewed on Council Rock’s YouTube channel. The next community forum is on bullying and harassment and will be held at 7 p.m. Sept. 29 at Holland Middle School.