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House Select Committee on School Safety, Security Concludes Final Hearing in Harrisburg
8/5/2013
Rep. Gary Day (R-Berks/Lehigh) chaired a public hearing of the House Select Committee on School Safety and Security July 15 at the state Capitol in Harrisburg to help develop a set of recommendations on school safety and security. Pictured at his left is Rep. Cherelle Parker (D-Philadelphia), vice chairman of the committee.
HARRISBURG
– The House Select Committee on School Safety and Security conducted its fourth and final hearing July 15 at the state Capitol in Harrisburg and gathered additional testimony on ways that students can be better protected in school settings, said Rep. Gary Day (R-Berks/Lehigh), chairman of the select committee.

“As we complete our public hearings on school safety and security, we have heard from a wide variety of stakeholders – from educators and law enforcement to mental health professionals and emergency planning experts – about the complexities of ensuring a safe environmental for students and staff while also maintaining a nurturing environment to foster the learning process,” said Day. “We have come away from these four hearings with a wealth of valuable information, which we will further study and develop into a set of recommendations for our committee to consider.”

The hearing included testimony on safety within community college settings and those of non-public schools, along with the unique challenges of students with special needs and/or disabilities. The panel of experts appearing included the Pennsylvania State Education Association and Pennsylvania’s auditor general.

Dr. John “Ski” Sygielski, president of Harrisburg Area Community College, talked about the communications systems developed at his college to communicate quickly and effectively with students, faculty, staff and community members, along with training sessions and video surveillance as part of its multi-layered approach. And officials of non-public school networks spoke about their schools’ safety plans, the types of safety threats they encounter, along with bullying and the cost of facility safety improvements.

Some testifiers also noted the passage of Senate Bill 10 as part of the overall 2013-14 state budget package and the $8.5 million in state grant funds for safe schools initiatives. That funding will be used for preventing school violence, improving school emergency preparedness plans, conducting school emergency preparedness drills, and establishing or enhancing school security personnel. However, some testifiers, including the Pennsylvania State Education Association, have advocated that even more money is necessary in terms of specific personnel and services.

In tandem with policy recommendations, the committee is also looking to find low-cost measures to help keep kids safe, while ensuring that every dollar meant for school safety and security is used to its maximum benefit.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale told the select committee that his department has a valuable role in school safety, as his auditors, in their examination of school districts, also review safety of the school buildings, including whether or not doors are locked and staff has been trained. Through June of this year, auditors conducted 610 initial safe school reviews, including basic on-site security review of more than 1,500 school buildings across the state. His auditors have frequently found that crisis plans are not updated frequently and/or are not conveyed to local law enforcement, and that sometimes roles and duties during an emergency may not be clearly defined.

“While we are pleased that our audits resulted in school security improvements, we are constantly looking for ways to improve the process and help provide even greater safety for school students, teachers and staff,” DePasquale said. “As fiscal watchdogs, we will continue to do our part to ensure that schools that receive school safety funding are following the rules.”

Others who offered testimony included: Michelle Twersky, Pennsylvania associate regional director, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, and member of PA Affiliate of the Council on American Private Education (PA CAPE); Dr. David Hegedus, associate director, Association of Christian Schools International, and member of PA CAPE; Christopher Budano, assistant director of Education Services, PA State Education Association; Sallie Lynagh, children’s advocate, Disability Rights Network of PA; and Auditor General Eugene DePasquale.

The first three hearings of the select committee focused on active shooter situations, along with more common safety threats, including fighting and bullying, and properly addressing situations regarding students with mental health issues. Although the type of threats varies in nature, all who have testified thus far have cited education, training, coordination and communication as factors for a successful multi-pronged approach.

The select committee’s report is due to the House by Sept. 30.

Representative Gary Day
187th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact:  Jennifer Keaton
717.705.2094
jkeaton@pahousegop.com
RepGaryDay.com / Facebook.com/RepGaryDay
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