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Tamaqua mulls school security options; could include arming staff

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Published June 13. 2018 11:08PM

Tamaqua Area School Board has been discussing security measures at the school in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting — a tragedy none of the board members want to see happen at any of the Tamaqua schools.

On Tuesday night, the board discussed three options it is exploring to mitigate the issue — all involving some form of armed security at the schools.

School Superintendent Raymond Kinder laid out three options for security the board explored: hiring security guards, hiring local police and training and arming select school staff.

No decision was made at Tuesday’s committee meeting, but the board discussed the finer points of all three alternatives.

According to board member Nicholas Boyle, the estimated costs to hire police help would be roughly $440,000 per year, hiring a security firm would be roughly $180,000, and arming and training 16 school officials would cost roughly $17,800. If the board were to pursue any of those options, the insurance would increase roughly $1,800 to cover the liability.

The board discussed security options in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting, and is now revisiting it, with many officials saying something needs to be done.

“This is not a topic we wish we had to discuss,” Kinder said. “(But) we need to find a solution that’s proactive and responsible. What we need to do is decide if we’re going to move forward or if we move to the side on this issue for further discussion.”

Board member Bryan W. Miller said the board also mustn’t overlook options for counseling students in distress or those who witness suspicious behavior.

“It’s a mental health issue. It wasn’t the gun that killed, it’s the people doing the shootings,” Miller said.

“As a board, we need to look to see we’re doing enough with the programs and partnerships that could help prevent these incidents. As far as the matter of security goes, I’m still on the fence.”

It was then Zac Blihar, IT support specialist, said he has been in talks with SHINE director Rachel Miller Strucko to pursue a sociological/emotional support grant that could help with school programming aimed at helping diminish youth risks.

Blihar said the school has been awarded a grant, but specifics, such as the amount awarded, have not yet been announced.

Kinder explained planned programming, with the middle and high schools set to do regular seminars discussing subjects including bullying and peer pressure. The elementary school would also have 20-minute sessions once a week covering similar topics.

Aside from those plans, Kinder said the school is also watching its facilities carefully, with much of the hardware on a regular replacement rotation.

“We’re always looking in eight directions when it comes to student safety — much of the latches, locks and other hardware are actively being tested and replace to ensure our buildings are made as safe as possible,” Kinder said.

Board President Larry Wittig said whatever the board decides, it shouldn’t wait and discuss the issue “ad nauseam.”

“It’s a sensitive issue and deserves our due diligence. But I would rather do nothing than try to come up with a monthslong ‘feel good’ plan to make everyone happy that really does nothing in the long run. We need accountability any way you slice it,” Wittig said.

The Tamaqua school board meets again next Tuesday.

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