New Castle News

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December 18, 2012

Shooting Aftermath: Local school districts gear up for crisis plan reviews

NEW CASTLE — Lawrence County’s district attorney is planning a school safety summit of sorts after the first of the year.

Joshua Lamancusa said he will meet with district officials, security guards and police to determine what security measures are in place at local schools and what can be done to enhance them.

“We want to address security within each school and what the response will be to any emergency,” he said.

Jan. 10 is the tentative date for the gathering, expected to be at New Castle High School.

This review is in response to Friday’s rampage by a 20-year-old gunman who killed 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.

“I’ve spent 33 years in education,” said Dr. Mary Todora, Neshannock’s superintendent, “I never thought we’d see anything like this.”

ASSESSING SECURITY

George Gabriel, New Castle’s superintendent, spent his first day back from sick leave Monday meeting with city police and administrators to assess the district’s security and how it can be improved.

“The New Castle police department has volunteered to assist us to assess lockdown plans of each building,” he said. “Now that we’ve seen what can happen, we’re looking at everything.”

He added that when the schools were built, “we considered education, not constructing forts and fortresses, building in ways to barricade if we came under attack. By design there are hazards, but we will address that. We will be making changes.”

Gabriel said he already has some ideas.

“Parents may not like this, but I plan to minimize the number of unnecessary visits in and out of the buildings and establish a more arduous screening policy.”

POLICE PROTECTION

Students at New Castle High School also will see an increased police presence. The school already has a metal detector, video surveillance cameras, several security guards and one armed, uniformed, full-time police officer employed by the district.

“There is security at the high school, but there may be more soon,” New Castle Police Chief Bobby Salem said.

The district employs security guards at the high school, he noted. A guard at George Washington Intermediate School — housing grades four, five and six — sits at the front door and buzzes in anyone who has business there.

However, Salem said, at the city’s three primary centers — John F. Kennedy, Thaddeus Stevens and Harry W. Lockley — visitors are buzzed in but there are no guards.

“That could change,” Salem said. “Up until now, since Columbine ... we thought if we had an incident, it would most likely occur at the high school. After Friday, we’re not sure of anything any more.”

In 1999, two high school seniors in Colorado murdered a dozen students and a teacher at Columbine High School before committing suicide.

Salem noted Friday’s shootings played no part in a training exercise at New Castle High that afternoon. The session, which had been scheduled weeks in advance, was for K-9 officers.

“Since Columbine, we have training sessions all the time. They help us to get to know the school buildings.”

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