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Palmerton reports on armed officers in schools

Published January 15. 2020 11:57AM

Palmerton Area School District hired three armed security officers in late November and the early reviews have been nothing but positive.

Administrators spoke last week about the influence the three have had since coming on board and the connection they are making with students.

“Our officer has really gotten to know the students,” high school Principal Paula Husar said. “Many of them have a shared interest in bodybuilding and that may sound trivial, but that kind of connection with the kids is really important. It builds trust.”

The district’s school board unanimously approved an agreement with KRE Security LLC in November in the amount of $155,280, which will be prorated for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year.

“They will have routine safety and security duties,” Palmerton’s acting Superintendent Dr. Al Lonoconus said at the time. “We want them to become a presence in the schools, be in the hallways working alongside our regular school personnel.”

Since then, one officer has been assigned to Towamensing Elementary, one officer to S.S. Palmer Elementary and Parkside, and the other officer to the junior high/high school complex.

Each building principal shared a similar experience to that taking place in the high school. The relationship formed with the younger students has been especially vital.

“The atmosphere has definitely improved,” said S.S. Palmer and Parkside Principal Mary Brumbach. “He is interacting with students well and I think they enjoy having him there.”

At the junior high school, Principal Rich DeSocio said, things are off to an equally great start and students can be seen high-fiving the officer in the hallway and talking with him during lunch periods.

Lonoconus, at November’s meeting, said the guards would have a wide variety of duties, including helping with any altercations within the buildings, monitoring visitors, and working with local law enforcement to handle any situations that may arise.

“It is also comforting,” Towamensing Elementary Principal Christine Steigerwalt said, “to know that there is someone else in the building who is certified in CPR and first-aid.”

Things have gone so well, Palmerton’s initial plan to rotate the officers between schools on at least a monthly basis may need revisited.

“We wanted them to get to know the layouts and operations of the different buildings, but my concern at this point is that the students have gotten so accustomed to the officer in their buildings that it may be a detriment to keep with that plan,” Lonoconus said.

Director Tammy Recker, one of the loudest proponents of added school safety measures over the years, recommended letting the building administrators decide whether a rotation of officers is necessary.

“They know what their school needs,” Recker said. “You talk about the connection with the bodybuilding, there may be one kid who is coming to school every day just because of that officer.”

Concurring with Recker was Board President Kathy Fallow.

“Some students don’t adapt well to change,” she said. “Once they establish trust levels, they keep that.”

On the other hand, board member Earl Paules cautioned that not allowing students to get too close with one particular officer may be a good thing.

“An officer may get too comfortable with specific students that they don’t realize when there may be a problem evident, or the student may get comfortable enough that they feel they can sneak something by them,” he said. “You have to look at it both ways.”

For now, however, the added security is leading to tangible results.

“I know our discipline numbers were down slightly in December,” Husar said, “so hopefully it will continue to have a positive impact all around.”

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