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Republican Senators Kick Off School Safety Tour In Western PA

Sarah Schneider
90.5 WESA
Republican Senators (right to left) Mike Regan, Camera Bartolotta, David Argall and Guy Reschenthaler listen during a roundtable on school safety in Peters Township.

A Republican State Senate Committee met with a group of school officials and school police officers from the western Pennsyvlania on Monday, to talk about what resources and support they need to keep schools safe.

Many of the superintendents say they need more funding to hire armed school resource officers to protect schools and school police officers said they need consistent training and more active shooter drills.

Missy Brant, a kindergarten teacher in the Waynesburg School District said teachers want better mental health training to identify students who need support.

“You know we’re worried about standards and you know the academic part, but there’s this whole missing part,” Brant said. “If you’re teaching the whole child you also have to remember it’s not reading, writing and math, it’s their emotions too and we need to be trained on that.”

Aaron Vanatta, a regional director for the National Association of School Resource Officers and School Resource Officer for Quaker Valley School District, asked for consistent training and accountability.

“There’s no oversight so everybody’s doing their own thing,” he said. “You might have a school police officer that went to the municipal police academy and is now working in the school but then doesn’t follow up with their firearms training or any in-service training or update training.”

About $60 million is earmarked for school safety in the state’s budget. Schools will soon be able to apply for grants to tap those funds.

Senator Mike Regan says there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to protecting schools. While some may want to hire more school counselors, others opt to hire police officers.

Overall, though, the conversation remained focused on prevention at the school level. There was no mention of gun control measures, something Governor Tom Wolf and Democratic lawmakers have pushed for.

Senator Guy Reschenthaler who represents the 37th district mentioned legislation he has introduced that would require that “each student receives a depression screening along with their required physical exams in sixth and eleventh grade.”

“I think this will have a lot of impact because one we will be able to determine which children have depression,” he said. “When we do that we can have treatment for the children which will help with the shootings, but also … with the opioid crisis. Having been a district judge, so many of the issues that came before me that came from schools the real cause of the problem was untreated or undiagnosed mental health illness. I think this will go a long way in reversing that.”

A federal report prepared by the Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center and released last month supports that effort if it’s done in tandem with the formation of “threat assessment teams” made up of mental health, law enforcement and education professionals who can identify and support “troubled” youth in schools.

Senator Camera Bartolotta who represents the 46th district told attendees that she hopes they can take action based on what the group said.

“This is just the beginning,” she said. “Don’t think for one minute when we walk out this door we will forget what you said or forget your concerns. This is just the beginning."