New Castle News

December 15, 2012

Grim Reflections: schools review security in wake of tragic shooting

Debbie Wachter
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — In the wake of tragedy, Lawrence County school and law enforcement officials are contemplating whether local schools are safe enough.

Their grim reflections come after 20-year-old Adam Lanza went on a shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. yesterday morning, killing 20 primary school children and seven adults, including his mother, a teacher at the school.

George Gabriel, Superintendent of the New Castle Area School District, said the district in the past has taken proactive measures to secure the school district’s buildings to ensure student safety.

But now he is considering what else the district can do to make security controls even tighter.

The district has had several incidents lately that have been cause for concern. In one instance, police criminally charged a student who threatened to kill a teacher and blow up the school. A parent was charged with a felony for allegedly shoving an elementary principal, and a man wanted on an arrest warrant hid from police in a classroom after an evening basketball game.

The New Castle district employs two security guards and a resource officer, who is a city police officer, fully employed by the district, Gabriel said.

All of its school buildings are locked down during the school day, and no one is allowed entry without pressing a buzzer and being screened for admittance, he said.

Students attending New Castle’s junior-senior high must pass through a metal detector every day, Gabriel continued. The purses and backpacks also are searched.

While no weapons have been found, students have been found with other things that violate district policy, Gabriel said.

There are no metal detectors in the intermediate or primary schools.

“When you hear about something like this happening,” Gabriel said, regarding the Connecticut shooting, “it jogs the mind and really pierces the heart. It’s a very sad situation.”


He said the district now might consider metal detectors for the lower grade levels, particularly in the future early learning center at Lockley.

New Castle also uses metal detectors to screen anyone who attends athletic events, he said.

Gabriel said he plans to call in all security guards and principals next week “to reassess where we are in respect to safety with people coming into our buildings.

“When something like this happens, it gives us pause to step back and ask if we are doing everything possible to keep our kids safe.”

He pointed out that the gunman in Connecticut was allowed into the school because his mother was a teacher there and the school personnel knew him.

“You just never know,” Gabriel said. “Who in their wildest dreams would think someone would kill 20 innocent little babies?”


Lawrence County District Attorney Joshua Lamancusa said last night that he would like to call a meeting of the police and all schools countywide to address school safety.

“I think he’s on the right path,” Gabriel said. “We’re in a day and age where nothing can be taken lightly and we can’t say it can’t happen to us.”

Former District Attorney Matthew T. Mangino had addressed the safety matter with schools and local police several years ago, following the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado. Security measures adopted by the schools back then remain in place.

The Wilmington Area School District has stayed proactive about working with local police and fire departments to ensure school safety, in addition to having electronic measures in place.

“I want to express the sadness I feel for the residents of Connecticut, particularly for those families personally impacted by this tragedy,” Dr. C. Joyce Nicksick, Wilmington  superintendent, said last night. “I believe everyone was immediately struck by the enormity of this horrific deed.

“This type of news story naturally causes parents, school personnel and community members to think about their  (local) school districts,” Nicksick said.


About 15 years ago, Wilmington installed a security system that requires all visitors to enter buildings at locked entrances equipped with buzzers and cameras.

That system was recently upgraded at the middle and high schools, she said, and visitors are unable to access any parts of the buildings without going through the school offices during the school day.

The district, through its renovation project, also has  increased the number and quality of its security cameras in and around the buildings, Nicksick said.

The district principals conduct regular emergency drills,  including lockdown, she said, and all classrooms have telephones that can call emergency numbers. Office personnel and administrators are notified whenever a 911 call is placed.

School offices and administrators also have hand-held two-way radios for communication among buildings.

The district has a phone system that allows quick notification of parents of any emergency, Nicksick said.

“Wilmington Area shares a good relationship with police in the district,” Nicksick added, and officers can access the buildings 24 hours a day.

(Email: dwachter