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Tamaqua school board introduces safety committee

Published August 22. 2019 12:24PM

The Tamaqua Area School Board Tuesday night released the names of people who will be on the security committee to decide which way the school should go to ensure student safety.

Last month the board announced its plan to install a safety commission composed of first responders, faculty members, school board directors and parents.

The commission members include first responders Tamaqua Police Chief Henry Woods, West Penn Chief Brian Johnson and Tamaqua Fire Chief Jim Connely.

Tamaqua School Staff members on the commission are teachers John Matalavage and Jessica Mazaika Paisley, joined by nurse Cathy Miorelli.

Parents include Jackie Schaeffer and John Ross, while Nick Boyle, Tom Rottet and Larry Wittig of the School Board Safety Committee round out the group.

“The charge of the committee will be what happens if all of the security is breached before, during and after God forbid a triage or there’s a need for ambulances and things like that,” said board President Larry Wittig. “That’s why first responders, that’s why Cathy is on, and that’s why we’re having a lot of input in terms of saving lives pre-, during and post a tragic event.”

The board drew attention throughout the state and the nation after it adopted Policy 705, in September 2018, “authorizing administrators, teachers or other district staff who undergo special training to carry firearms and use deadly force while performing school duties.”

The Tamaqua Education Association filed a complaint two months later. Parents and grandparents also filed a suit in Schuylkill County court, with the assistance of CeaseFirePa. There has been an intense legal battle over the policy since then.

The decision to scrap Policy 705 came two weeks after Gov. Tom Wolf signed Senate Bill 621, “which clarifies existing law to mandate explicit and more robust training requirements for armed school security personnel and further prevent the arming of untrained nonsecurity personnel, including teachers,” according to his office.

At least for now, there is no policy to arm staff at the Tamaqua Area School District.

The first commission meeting will be held in September at the high school. The meeting is open to the public, but not open for public comments and conversation. Wittig mentioned he believes it will likely take four meetings, or four months, to hash out a potential new safety policy — after 705 was scrapped.

Cheryl Humes, who is running for Tamaqua Area School Board director, attended the meeting and questioned the board about the commission.

“Our focus is going to be on saving lives,” Wittig said in a response to a concern. “At the end of the day; a consensus as to what the policy will look like, it will be legal and effective. We’re not going to reinvent the wheel, but by the same token, we’re not going to go off on a tangent to make us feel good that we’re doing something. There’s enough diversity on the committee that it will be hashed out.”

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