Education & Learning
7:16 pm
Thu December 20, 2012

PA Schools Reviewing Policies After Newtown

In the hours after the Friday morning shootings in Newtown, state Department of Education officials here in the commonwealth sent a notice to all school districts, private and public, to be aware of any suspicious behavior. From there, school districts reached out to parents.

“I can tell you personally that the district that my students, my kids attend, the district sent out text messages, sent out e-mails, and also sent out phone calls, electronic phone calls to alert parents of actions that are being taken at the local level,” said Department of Education spokesman Tim Eller, speaking of a Perry County school district.

Similar notifications were going out all across the state. Some letters to parents also offered guidelines for telling children about the school shootings. Many mentioned existing intruder drills and safety precautions, and explained that all school districts are required to have a plan for responding to various kinds of emergencies.

Eller said the shooting is also prompting some districts to revisit school-specific safety measures.

“Districts are reviewing their locked-door policies, you know, ensuring security on campus,” said Eller.

Policy changes came faster for some schools.  On the Sunday following the shootings, the Butler Area School District and the South Butler County School District received permission from the courts to place armed guards in their schools. 

Butler Area Superintendent Michael Strutt told The Associated Press that his 7,500-student district had an armed officer in each of its 11 elementary and three secondary schools on Monday, and likely will going forward.

That district's board had voted Dec. 10 to begin a months-long process to arm its police, even before Friday's shooting in Newtown, Conn., where 20-year-old Adam Lanza killed his mother at her home before bursting into Sandy Hook Elementary School, where he killed 20 pupils and six staff and then shot himself.

"The shooting is absolutely tragic. I can barely contain my emotions every time I think about those children and what happened to them," Strutt told the AP. "The tragedy just expedited the process in our school district" of arming its police officers.

Previously, the Butler Area district had an unarmed security guard in each of its elementary schools and two or three unarmed school police officers — all retired Pennsylvania state troopers — at each of its secondary schools, Strutt said.

Sunday's court order allows those officers to "carry their own weapons on the job until such time as the school district purchases weapons for them," Strutt said.