School Security, Violence Prevention Programs Topics of House Republican Policy Hearing
4/11/2007
The House Republican Policy Committee, chaired by Rep. Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny), held a hearing today on current approaches to combat school violence and ways to improve school safety.
 
The hearing, co-chaired by Rep. Julie Harhart (R-Lehigh/Northampton), was held at Parkland School District Administration building.
 
Reps. Scott Hutchinson (R-Venango/Butler), Brian Ellis (R-Butler), Bernie O’Neill (R-Bucks), Jeff Pyle (R-Armstrong/Indiana), Stan Saylor (R-York) and Doug Reichley (R-Lehigh) were in attendance.
 
“Our children are often at risk to physical and emotional assaults when they walk into a school building. That is unacceptable,” Harhart said. “Today’s testifiers provided a lot of useful insight on ways that the Legislature can help to improve school safety.”
 
Testifiers included superintendents from the Parkland, Whitehall-Coplay and Northampton Area school districts; officials from the Lehigh and Northampton counties’ district attorney’s offices; and various law enforcement officers.
 
“Schools should be a safe haven for our children, not a place where they are at risk for violence,” Turzai said. “Today we heard testimony from people who are concerned with school safety on a daily basis. We are promoting a collaborative effort among school officials, municipal officials, law enforcement officials and legislators. The policy committee is dedicated to working with front-line individuals to continue to promote safe school environments. One important idea is that school resource officers are a crucial component in ensuring safety, bringing community policing to the school setting.”
 
“We have to look at the impact that society has on violence in our schools,” said O’Neill. “There needs to be a community effort to combat this problem.”
 
Testimony from the school superintendents’ panel focused on the need for additional funding to increase security measures, the role of resource officers in preventing school violence and alternative education programs for at-risk students.
 
Linda Firestone, Northampton Area School District superintendent, described a safety situation that occurred last May when a student brought a rifle, hidden in a guitar case, to Northampton High School. Fortunately, no one was physically injured, but Firestone said the event left a lasting emotional effect on students, parents and school staff. 
 
“School violence is an issue that requires each stakeholder to take responsibility: student, parent, teacher, administrator, community member and every legislator,” Firestone said. “Every district in the United States must provide a safe physical environment for every student. This can only be accomplished when each district establishes a school-wide system to manage and support student behavior.”
 
James Martin, the district attorney for Lehigh County, along with officers from the law enforcement panel, agreed with the superintendents that the presence of school resource officers is one of the most effective ways to combat school violence.
 
“The mere presence of a uniformed police officer within the ‘school community’ brings about an enhanced sense of safety and reduces the probability of school violence,” said Theodore Kohuth, Whitehall Township chief of police. “Additionally, by building relationships and bonds of trust with students, our school resource officers occasionally are the recipients of intelligence information for a planned criminal act, or they receive information regarding a crime which may have occurred elsewhere within our jurisdiction.”
 
“Political correctness run amuck has resulted in the inmates taking over the asylum. Unruly students, discipline problems and individuals who commit violence in school settings need to be expelled from the schools,” said John Morganelli, Northampton County district attorney. 
 
“Education is a privilege and it is my view that we need to examine closely the whole area of student rights vis-à-vis discipline in our schools and fashion new authority for teachers, principals and administrators to deal with those students who demonstrate that they are a danger to others. Teachers need more rights not students and need to be able to discipline unruly and problem students without fear of lawsuits.”
 
The House Republican Policy Committee will continue to look into legislative ways to improve school safety throughout the Commonwealth.
 
Rep. Mike Turzai
28th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
(412) 369-2230
www.RepTurzai.com
Contact: Tricia Graham
House Republican Public Relations
(717) 260-6296