A group of 23 Octorara School District residents gathered for a community forum April 1 and aired their views about whether to accept a state Office of Safe Schools grant and hire an armed campus security officer.
The school board is set to vote on the issue April 14, and Superintendent Tom Newcome and members of the Community School Safety Task Force said the vote could go either way.
The task force now has 125 citizens on board, and only two residents spoke Tuesday against having an armed officer on campus. Two other residents also sent “no”-vote emails to the superintendent.
While comments were quiet and civil, some parents were obviously frustrated that the issue is at an impasse.
Volunteers have been lobbying for a security officer for more than a year, and last month the district learned it had received approval for the $40,000 grant. The grant proposal was written by teacher Brian Dikun.
The grant gives the district seed money to put an officer on duty at no cost for the remainder of this school year.
During the 2014-15 school year, the district’s cost for the officer’s services could run $30,000 to $50,000, depending on whether the officer would assume some of the before- and after-school traffic patrol currently handled by Signal 88 Security.
There is no guarantee grant money will continue beyond the next school year.
School board members paused from moving forward during their March meeting, saying they wanted to bring more people into the conversation.
The April 1 meeting gave those other voices the opportunity to be heard.
“It’s been in the newspaper, we’ve had comments at school board meetings, it’s been out on robo-call and only two people have come out to say anything in a group of people,” said parent Vito Vespe.
“Does every other school district have to go through this to get security in the schools?” asked parent Jodi Muldoon. “It seems ridiculous.”
The parents said that the Sandy Hook school shooter killed many people in four minutes and that the Octorara campus is particularly vulnerable because of its rural location.
“We are talking about a response time of some time over five minutes,” Newcome said.
According to the superintendent, Chief Brian Sheller of Parkesburg-West Sadsbury Police said response time depends upon time of day, shift changes, traffic, duty and weather and could be five to eight minutes.
Newcome said Chief Charles Wilmont of West Fallowfield Police believes average response time would be five minutes.
“In a life-threatening emergency,” Trooper Corey Monthei of the Pennsylvania State Police Avondale barracks said in an interview, “we will respond to Octorara schools within minutes.”
However, parent Kristin Weber said it could take up to 15 minutes to get a state police officer on campus because he or she would be covering a wide area.
“That person (a shooter) could run wild through the halls until someone gets here,” she said. “Are you going to wait 15 minutes or hope someone surprises him and takes him out? Fifteen minutes is too long. If it was your child, you would say it was worth it.”
One father said in an incident of violence he would like to have an officer very familiar with the campus.
“I would like someone who knows exactly where the wrestling room in the junior high school is,” he said.
David Jones of Parkesburg, a retired state hospital executive, said guns “add an element of violence, not safety.”
Jones said that, following an incident at a state hospital in Norristown, in which a nurse brought in a gun and killed someone, the hospital did not respond with armed guards.
He said the hospital stayed on top of security after the incident with educational initiatives.