CURWENSVILLE – Parents and concerned community members were invited to an informational meeting Tuesday night at Curwensville Area High School regarding school safety protocols, entitled “Where we are, where we are going.”
Superintendent Ron Matchock began by talking about things already in place prior to the incident Feb. 28 where a threat was found written in one of the stalls of a bathroom, and then shortly after an additional threat found written on a rolled up piece of paper in a girls’ bathroom.
First, all the school doors to the outside can be locked from any office; they are remotely controlled and monitored. All visitors to the school must be buzzed in and visit the office first for a visitor’s badge.
The badges have a color-coded sticker that is changed every day so that someone cannot take a badge and then try to use it again.
There are currently 130 surveillance cameras in the school and five more will be added soon. The cameras were provided through a safe schools grant.
Matchock said police and other emergency responders have remote access to the video on the high-quality digital cameras.
Additionally, all the buses have cameras and the sophistication of the cameras depends on the age of the bus. He said they are currently in the process of upgrading all the systems to a newer five-camera system.
An older but useful system is restroom sign-out sheets in classrooms and students are also required to have hall passes if they are in the halls during class. Hallways are monitored.
High school Principal Bill Hayward added that teachers and staff are monitoring students and visitors at all times and are on the watch for things like wallet chains, knives and other items.
He noted he had to remove a parent a few days ago who came into the school with a knife in his pocket.
A newer item the school is utilizing is a cell phone application, Navigate Prepared. Matchock said the app provides access to emergency preparedness procedures, 360-degree photos of all classrooms, alarm activation and communication during and event.
He said some of the information staff should already know, but it is useful for review and for new or substitute teachers or staff. The app sends out alerts to emergency personnel and provides them with information, as well. Matchock said the app is actually faster than a traditional 9-1-1 phone call.
When asked about police response times, Trooper Scott Sankey, who was on hand, said state police response times can vary. However, Police Chief Mark Kelly said his response time can be three to five minutes, depending on where he is.
And if 9-1-1 is dialed from the building, he is notified immediately. In fact, the school phone system logs every number dialed and the administration is notified if 9-1-1 is dialed, even if it is a hang-up call.
The school computer network is also monitored. Recently the district started using SmoothWall Web Guardian and the principals immediately get notification concerning certain activities, such as mention or searches regarding suicide, access to adult content, sites regarding weapons or substance abuse, etc.).
Matchock noted some of the things they get alerts on include Bass Pro Shops or the National Rifle Association, but they have also had alerts regarding Japanese Anime sites, since much of that includes adult content.
Furthermore, all staff and students receive training for the ALICE protocol: Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate. It is important to note ALICE is not a linear progressive response, as different scenarios may call for different responses. Additionally, some teachers are trained in restraint techniques.
The Curwensville School District also holds safety drills. Matchock noted protocols have no value without drills and used fire drills as an example. Students are so familiar with fire drills that they do them quickly and with little confusion.
There are 10 fire drills per year, two active shooter drills (spring and fall) and one weather drill. The staff and students utilize their ALICE training and are given different scenarios during active shooter drills.
Later in the meeting, some parents asked that the district increase the number of active shooter drills so that students become more familiar with how they should respond.
Matchock said all threats are deemed serious until proven otherwise. When there is a threat, such as Feb. 28, 9-1-1 is called immediately and a lockdown is initiated, then information is given out to parents as appropriate through mass notification systems.
Since Feb. 28, the district has assigned custodians to monitor the exterior of the building, internal staff and student communicators have been assigned and additional speakers and cameras are being installed.
He noted the Feb. 28 incident was the first serious one in many years. There was a delay in providing information as the camera footage had to be reviewed and the K-9 unit searched lockers.
Matchock agreed with parents that more could have been done to keep staff, students and parents informed and that is something the district is working on.
The district has other proactive actions to try and prevent problems. Matchock said they have a good relationship with President Judge Fredric Ammerman and the probation office.
New students to the district are interviewed and the administration strives to keep students with a serious history out of the schools if possible.
A good relationship with local and state police is also maintained and Hayward added that they have a good and valuable relationship with Kelly and appreciate all he has done with the district. Drug dogs are also brought in regularly.
The district deems identifying mental problems and getting help for students a priority. There are three guidance counselors and a school psychologist on campus and the district has an agreement with Brookville Behavioral Health.
“Academics go out the window when a kid needs help,” Matchock said.
Teachers and staff work together to identify problems and determine the best course of action. The district also works to empower students, providing some students with training on being leaders, role models and caring, helpful individuals.
Anti-bullying is emphasized with a student group working with staff regularly. The district also encourages students to say something if they have concerns and not worry about being a “snitch.”
Matchock compared it to neighborhood watch programs where the community looks out for its members.
The biggest problem staff encounters is social media. There is nothing they can do to control what happens on social media and they are not permitted by law to search student phones when there is a problem.
Curwensville is more restrictive than many districts regarding cell phone use, but Matchock said many of the problems happen outside of school. He said it is imperative for parents to step in and monitor what their kids are doing online.
Ultimately, Hayward said everyone needs to learn to treat others better. “We need to treat each other with more kindness. Period.”
Parents asked about possibly having armed guards or armed teachers. Matchock said in regards to armed staff that would have to come from the state or federal level.
However, armed guards or resource officers are being looked at. The district is looking into other measures, such as metal detectors.
Matchock said it is important to maintain a balance between being restrictive for safety and being too restrictive. For example, how restrictive should the district be regarding after-hours events?
Matchock said they are now looking to see what the state and federal governments are going to do, as well as looking at what Curwensville can do differently, and the district will continue to keep parents informed.