I-Team: Safety Study

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(WBRE/WYOU-TV) — How safe are our schools?

It’s a question that has become all too common across the nation and in our region in the aftermath of school shootings and threats of violence. Tonight, Eyewitness News I-Team Reporter Andy Mehalshick takes a look at school safety here in Northeastern and Central Pennsylvania.

There are images that have become all too common. Students fleeing their schools. Law enforcement converging on those schools, responding to reports of a shooting, trying to determine what exactly is going on, and these images strike fear into the hearts of people like John Gorham. He is the secondary principal for Student Affairs at Crestwood High School.

“I read the news just like everyone else does. I see the media. I see the school safety issues going on in our country. It literally makes me emotional,” said Gorham.

And Gorham says he has found a common connection in many of these school shootings.

“Just communicate with your kids. Most of the time when there are tragedies or serious safety issues in schools, there were always signs that were missed. So if you think something doesn’t feel right say something to somebody,” noted Gorham.

School districts throughout our region approach school security in a wide variety of ways. Some are very hi-tech. Hazleton Area has an elaborate camera surveillance system and oftentimes uses metal detectors to screen people, including students, entering their buildings.

The Crestwood School District has school resources officers patrolling its buildings. And people coming in must identify themselves before they are buzzed into the school.

Piero Sassu is chief of the Crestwood School police force. He has 40 years’ experience in keeping schools safe.

“It’s situational awareness. You have to be aware of your surroundings, aware of visitors to your property and to the school itself,” said Sassu.

Chief Sassu says he has found that all of the preventative safety steps in the world cannot top building relationships with students.

“On a daily basis, your school resource officers are always interacting with kids to find out what’s going on with them. Not only changes in their behavior but notice changes in their physical well-being is important to the whole community to see that,” noted Sassu.

 Robert Mehalick is the superintendent of the Crestwood School District.

“So yeah the connection with our students, having them feel comfortable and confident that if they come to an adult, come to an administrator or teachers, that their concerns will be addressed immediately,” said Mehalick.

Mehalick says in this day and age— “We never take anything for granted. Any tip, any concern brought to our attention, anything that a student may bring to our attention, we fully investigate.”

Another big issue in recent months? Threats made to school districts, like that made at the Wyoming Valley West High School this past week. Those threats force the evacuation and sometimes the closing of the school for the day.

State Senator John Yudichak says he is in favor of toughening the penalties for those who make those threats.

“I think we have to hold those that make the threats, the students, there has to be greater accountability and for families. We have accountability in terms of making sure the students are attending school, that they are not skipping school. We’ve got to look at all options,” noted Senator Yudichak.

Senator Yudichak says it may be time to look at ways to hold parents more accountable for the actions of their minor children. He says these threats may actually start at home.

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