Octorara discusses school safety
BY DEBBIE WYGENT, Correspondent
Residents of the rural Octorara Area School District community never think twice about meeting at the school campus -- a community hub -- to walk or run the outdoor track, use the tennis courts, visit the memorial to fallen soldiers or bring visitors to be photographed with the Indian Brave statue.
After the December Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in Newtown, Conn., the school board convened the district safety committee, increased security, held safety drills in each school, and sent participants to the 31st Safe Schools Summit in Chester County.
Three policies governing safety, building security and school visits, last revised in 1997, are now under new scrutiny.
Now and even more in the near future, visitors will find their presence on campus must be prearranged, and residents may not be able to just show up to use school grounds during school hours.
On Monday evening, Henry Oleyniczak, a school board member who is now an international security executive and was formerly deputy commissioner for the Pennsylvania State Police, called managing school security in the age of assault weapons "a daunting task."
Octorara's Amish neighbors, many of whom built locked fences around local Amish school houses after the nearby Nickel Mines School shooting, may be only a step ahead of the "English" school.
The three proposed policies to be approved on first reading on Feb. 18 and then adopted March 18, make building security a top priority. The policies call for the district safety committee to meet at least six times per year. Precautions for student safety while on campus must be taken even before and after school hours and during busing.
Modifications to the building security policy call for each school building to have one entry control point and limit electronic and nonelectronic access to the buildings.
As for the school visitors policy, the school board is considering abolishing use of the campus, including the outdoor track, during school hours. Alternatively, the school board may opt to let residents use the outdoor facilities such as the track and tennis courts during school hours if they obtain a visitor's pass from the district office.
A question-and-answer night for parents about school security is set for 6:30 p.m. today in the library of the Octorara Primary Learning Center.
The changes in campus use could be a controversial decision at a time when the school district also is counting on community boosters to help pay for major improvements to the track and varsity field.
Scott Grimes, head of the volunteer Field Development Task Force, said Monday Octorara Soccer Boosters and Octorara Football Boosters have each just pledged $10,000 to the project. With $44,000 raised from A Championship Night with Ryan Vogelsong, and $56,000 in equipment and labor pledged by J.D. Eckman Inc., the task force appears to have met its $100,000 financial goal.
Board member Nelson Stoltzfus said the school board will vote in March whether to pay for new bleachers for varsity field.
The school board also heard from Parkesburg resident Timothy Alexander Monday night. Alexander said he has begun an online petition asking that the school board allow no tax increase this year. He said he had received 61 signatures as of Monday evening.
Alexander said some families live on salaries of $20,000 per year or less.
"Every time we raise taxes we put people at risk for losing their homes," he said.
"Our budget is all about cuts," board President Lisa Bowman said.
Bowman and board member Sam Ganow told Alexander the district lacks a commercial property base and that 1 mill in Octorara is worth $800,000, compared to $8 million in the West Chester School District. They said the school board is dealing with the challenges of rising charter school, pension and health care costs, along with revenue shifted onto the bills of homeowners due to Clean and Green regulations.
The school board will next meet at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 18.
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