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North Penn Parents Remain Angry Over School Safety

Despite a lengthy school safety forum held on May 14, parents angry at ongoing student violence in the North Penn School District spoke out two days later at a school board meeting.

Before Tuesday’s meeting, a group of parents, grandparents and community members told reporters about their frustration that began with the district’s response to an April 17 attack by a transgender student at Pennbrook Middle School. It sent a 12-year-old girl to the hospital.

Hatfield resident Lauren Rossi told the board another student threatened her son, Tyler, an 8th grader at Pennfield Middle School, on Monday. He went to the office. The principal called the police, who found a knife in the locker of the student who made the threats. “The police officer described it to me as ‘big and daunting.’ Along with paraphernalia.”

She demanded the board do something about violent students who are allowed to come back to regular classrooms.

“My son might not have been here today, or another student who had gotten in the way to help Tyler could have gotten hurt. Do you guys understand how quickly this could have escalated?”

“I have one kid. One. And I thank God every day that he is safe,” said Rossi.

“Why is it all of you are protected by the teachers union, yet no one is protecting our kids?” asked Rossi.  [The teachers union endorsed several current board members in last year’s election.]

Tyler Rossi also said, “Thank goodness” the principal called the police.

“We found that he brought a machete into school. How can a kid get a blade that big into school?” he asked. “How are they getting weapons into school, and nobody’s stopping them? How are all these fights happening? You just send the kids right back to school after three days? What is going on in your district?

“I haven’t been there the last three days. I’m scared to go. I want to know why you guys aren’t doing anything, and when will you start doing something?” he said.

A parent, Yanni Lambros, said board members are now defending the transgender student who attacked the girl with a Stanley cup at Pennbrook.

“Now I’m hearing, ‘You’re trying to spin it around that the attacker was the victim. That he was getting bullied.’ Are you f-n nuts? Are you crazy? Stop harassing kids. Stop harassing parents. I graduated from North Penn. It used to be a great school. They kept boys and girls separate. They called the police when fights happened. They didn’t give any particular groups any particular privilege. Everything was equal justice under the rules of the school at the time. It doesn’t seem like that anymore. You guys push an agenda. You spend a lot of money, and what’s being done? You talk in circles at the safety meeting about all your technology; then why are kids afraid to go to school? That’s on you. Fix it.”

And Alyssa Santiago said a classmate threatened her elementary school child with a screwdriver.

“I pulled my daughter from Pennbrook after her friend was brutally attacked. And now I’m pulling my son. Where is their right to learn? Who’s standing up for the children that want to learn? We’re protecting kids who are violent. Simply, by not holding these kids responsible, you are enabling school violence.”

Parent Shannon Main brought state statistics.

Last year, 325 incidents were reported at the three middle schools.

“This is more than one each day,” she said. “Hatfield Elementary School had 30 incidents last year. I am speaking not just for myself but on behalf of teachers, aides, and bus drivers throughout the district. Last year, a Hatfield Elementary student threatened a teacher with a pair of scissors. Knapp Elementary had 23 incidents reported. A district employee at Knapp suffered a concussion from a violent outburst of a student. North Wales Elementary had 22 incidents last year. We have to put an end to it.

“The current board does not prioritize mental health [and] teacher’s aides because there’s no money in it. Instead, you’re focused on renovation and technology projects that secure million-dollar contracts for your political donors.”

During the safety meeting, the school district’s safety coordinator, Brandon Rhone, described various high-tech devices that the district installed, from AI-aided cameras to sensors that detect gunshots and smoke from vapes.

After that meeting, parent Stephanie Palovcak told DVJournal, “They put on this huge presentation for 45 minutes showcasing what they’re trying to sell us on how great the school is.”

But “many parents spoke out about the constant violence that the kids are experiencing and witnessing in school, whether it be targeted toward their kids, or just because they’re stuck watching it,” she said. “Kids with behavioral issues still deserve an education. But there has to come a point where, if there is constant disruption, they need to be removed and placed elsewhere, not just transferred to another middle school. They need to be placed in a school where they’ll get the help they need.”

 

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Alyssa’s Law Would Bring Silent Alarms to All PA Public Schools

On February 14, 2018, shots echoed through the hallways at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. A former student, gunman Nikolas Cruz, then 19, killed 17 people and injured another 17.

Hoping to prevent mass casualties at schools in Pennsylvania, state Sens. Art Haywood (D-Montgomery) and Tracy Pennycuick (R-Montgomery) announced they will introduce Alyssa’s Law. The legislation addresses law enforcement response time when a life-threatening emergency occurs at a school. The bill would require all public schools to be equipped with silent panic alarms that directly notify law enforcement in the event of a school-based emergency. The law could potentially save lives during emergencies.

Alyssa’s Law is named in honor of Alyssa Alhadeff, 14, a Parkland victim. Due to her family’s advocacy and their organization, Make Our Schools Safe, Alyssa’s Law has been signed into law in five other states: Florida, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee and Texas. Several other state legislatures are currently working to pass it.

Haywood and Pennycuick hope the legislation will swiftly pass the General Assembly, ultimately improving emergency response protocols within schools across the commonwealth and ensuring our students are protected during life-threatening emergencies.

“This legislation is a critical step toward ensuring the safety of the commonwealth’s students,” said Haywood. “Installing panic buttons in schools allows for direct connection to local law enforcement, in turn allowing police to respond faster in the event of an emergency. I am hopeful that Pennsylvania will soon join the growing list of states that have enacted this common-sense and lifesaving measure.”

“When a dangerous incident occurs on school grounds, the most rapid response possible can save lives,” Pennycuick said. “We owe it to our children and teachers to use every method available to give them the best chance to get through these emergencies unharmed.”

In March, state Rep. Johanny Cepeda-Freytiz (D-Berks) introduced a version of Alyssa’s Law in the House.

And Delaware County installed a silent alarm system, DelPass, in all public and private schools in 2013.

“We’re a big fan of it,” said Radnor Police Superintendent Chris Flanagan. “It allows with the touch of a button, the dispatcher to tune in. And I think the future would be that it can see, that it’ll have a television camera. It only turns on when activated. And what we love is the dispatcher can hear what’s going on. It’s really handy.”

State Rep. Lisa Borowski (D-Newtown Square) said, “There are many schools across the commonwealth that don’t have panic buttons.”  She noted the law will not be a mandate for school districts and it will include state funding for the devices. “The legislation has to work across the commonwealth,” she said.

The system has been activated a few times in the county, but all turned out not to be active shooter situations, he said.

“Today, we are one step closer to America’s students being more likely to come home at the end of the day. Pennsylvania is proving itself to be a leader in school safety through this legislation,” said Lori Alhadeff, co-founder of MOSS and Alyssa Alhadeff’s mother. “Had my daughter’s school had panic alarms in the classroom, Alyssa might still be here today.

Jaidyn Turner, Alyssa Alhadeff’s cousin, added, “If in passing Alyssa’s Law we are able to save one life it will have been worth it, because students deserve to go to school every day and know they are safe no matter what situations arise.”

PA Moderates Toomey, Fitzpatrick in the Midst of Gun Control Deal-Making

Washington lawmakers are forging ahead toward possible gun violence legislation, and two Pennsylvania Republicans are at the center of the effort.

A group of bipartisan lawmakers led by U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey found common ground on gun control legislation that stands a chance of passing the Senate. Toomey (R-Pa.) told reporters 10 Republicans were “on board in principle” with a deal that could break through a GOP-led filibuster that stalled previous attempts.

“I do think it’s more likely than not that we will get something done in the Senate,” Toomey said last week.

Lawmakers involved in the negotiations said the measure provides “needed mental health resources, improves school safety and support for students, and helps ensure dangerous criminals and those who are adjudicated as mentally ill can’t purchase weapons.”

His comments came after the House passed a wide-ranging package of gun safety bills, called the Protecting Our Kids Act, in a 223-204 vote. It followed a tense hearing where victims of recent gun massacres across the U.S. urged lawmakers to take action.

The bills would raise the minimum age for purchasing semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21, ban high-capacity magazines, require a registry for bump stocks, and tighten federal firearms regulations to apply to so-called “ghost guns,” which are manufactured without serial numbers by private citizens.

It would also create tax incentives for sales of safe storage devices and add criminal penalties for those who violate gun storage regulations at their residences.

Among the five Republicans voting for the package was Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Bucks). He said that while the legislation was “far from perfect,” it was a “necessary step” to put pressure on the Senate to adopt a bipartisan proposal in the wake of mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas, Buffalo, N.Y., and Tulsa, Okla.

Fitzpatrick said e supports Americans’ Second Amendment right to own guns but added there was “no higher responsibility” for lawmakers than protecting children from gun mayhem.

“Our policies should support responsible gun ownership. We must protect mentally healthy, law-abiding citizens’ right to protect and defend themselves, their families, their homes, and their communities, and we must also prevent mentally ill individuals and criminals from gaining access to firearms and causing harm to others. If we’re going to stop the violence plaguing our nation, we must all accept these basic premises,” he said.

The National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action said the House package threatened to “turn millions of law-abiding gun owners into felons.”

“This unconstitutional legislation would extinguish law-abiding adults’ Second Amendment rights and contends that these individuals are responsible enough to defend their country or vote in an election, but cannot be trusted to follow the law,” the group wrote on its website.

The Toomey-backed legislation, still being debated among the bipartisan group of senators, doesn’t go as far as the House package. But it would provide for an enhanced review process for buyers under age 21 and penalties for straw purchases, CNN reported.

The review process would include an “investigative period to review juvenile and mental health records, including checks with state databases and local law enforcement.”

The proposal calls for support for crisis intervention and funding for school safety resources, a key point of contention among Republicans who accused Democrats of seizing on tragedies to push forward more restrictive gun laws.

Meanwhile, Delaware Valley Democrats at the state level are pushing for further gun restrictions. Sate Sen. Steven Santarsiero (D-Bucks) proposed legislation that would ban military-style weapons in the Keystone State.

He told reporters at a news conference in Lower Makefield Township that the measure was modeled after a 2013 Connecticut law that banned high-capacity magazines and provided a voluntary buyback program for gun owners.

“Military-style weapons have no place in civilian society,” Santarsiero said. “Easy access to assault weapons is one of the greatest threats to the health and safety of Pennsylvanians.”

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