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Keeping schools safe and secure continues to be a major focus at North Allegheny School District, according to the latest update by the NA Student Wellness and Safety Committee.
Dan Stack, manager of school safety and security for the district, reported on the activity of the committee to date during the North Allegheny School Board meeting on Aug. 24.
School board chair of the committee Dr. Vidya Szymkowiak moderated the presentation and was joined by fellow board and committee members Leslie Britton Dozier and Kevin Mahler.
“Our mission for North Allegheny is to try to keep and create the safest possible environment that we can for our students and staff. We have many, many visitors throughout the campus and we’re trying to regulate that as well,” said Stack, who was hired into the position in July 2021.
Stack, who has 32 years of experience in emergency services, said the committee and administration spent the last year assessing current practices and policies while developing new ones to keep everything at industry standards. This includes regular drills and exercises reflecting more “real life” situations, he said. They also have age-appropriate school drills for students at all levels.
Stack said they want to make evacuation and safety procedures “second nature” to staff and students.
School resources officers are on duty during school hours, providing traffic control, monitoring entrances to the schools and security cameras, and patrolling inside and outside of school buildings, he said. The safety and security administration is in daily contact with the surrounding police departments, including Franklin Park, McCandless and Northern Regional. Each of these departments monitors the schools within their jurisdiction.
McCandless police are hired for large evening events like football games, prom, homecoming and more.
Stack said the police are very involved with staff and students, including providing security presentations to students, welfare checks and assisting in emergency drills. For example, Franklin Park officers practice a “stop and walk” policy that allows officers to walk around the schools and stop to talk to students and staff there.
NASD has an annual contract with PalAmerican Security Guards for additional support. Additionally, the school district also has a mental health partnership with McCandless Police, which gives them access to the police department’s social workers if needed.
A Closed Campus Policy was put into effect on Aug. 22 that restricts access to visitors without an appointment on district properties during the hours of 7 a.m. through 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, on days when school is in session, or during an evening or weekend event such as a dance, school play, or sporting event. Stack said there are multiple signs noting the new policy on each of the campuses.
Each school also has a recently upgraded Raptor System to screen and manage visitors and volunteers. All volunteers are required to have the proper clearances and the system can quickly check these clearances by scanning a state-issued photo identification, Stack said.
The district participates in weekly meetings with the Allegheny Intermediate Unit safety team, which includes other Allegheny County school districts. He said superintendents of surrounding school districts gather to share information and ideas on school security. The district also completed the Risk Vulnerability Assessment Team through the state police.
Traffic safety was also a concern with residents, according to Szymkowiak. Due to community requests, PennDOT has agreed to lengthen the traffic light at Perry Highway and the high school by a few seconds, allowing just more time for drivers to turn into the campus, Stack said.
Stack, of McCandless, is a certified instructor in Pennsylvania for police emergency services and fire-related instruction. He also worked for 27 years in McCandless as its fire marshal, and later as chief fire marshal.
Dr. Melissa Friez, superintendent for NASD, said the district started safety and security training in the summer with NA teachers and staff, making sure they provided them with “very consistent protocols and procedures and safety expectations” for emergency situations. She said they will continue to engage the staff in safety procedures and communications.
“We want to make sure this is not just one and done but we are educating not only our staff but students as well,” she said.
Teachers and other staff receive first aid and universal precautions annually, Friez said.
Friez said she is impressed by the support of local emergency and police, recalling an incident last November. A student reported seeing a message on a bathroom wall at the senior high school suggesting a threat.
The McCandless Police Department was contacted immediately and the school was placed on lockdown. She commented on the quick and thorough response time by all police departments within North Allegheny, as well as from Allegheny County and Pittsburgh.
The McCandless Police Department and the Allegheny County Sheriff’s Department and K-9 units conducted a search of the school. NASH was cleared to remove the lockdown later that morning.
In this case, NASH families were notified of the lockdown via phone, text, and email and then notified again once the lockdown was listed. The district also shared details with all K-12 parents/guardians that day.
The NASD Safety and Security Budget for 2022-2023 is $245,000. That figure does not include budget funds for facilities upgrades that may improve safety and security. Additionally, the figure does not include the safety and security grants being pursued by the district, an item Friez said they are always on the search for.
“We have historically applied to every security grant that has been made available to us. We don’t always get them, but we apply for them,” she said.
Friez said they are in the process of a grant application to the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency for approximately $225,000, dedicated for safety and security. It also provides another $225,000 for mental health.
Stack reminded the public that there are 8,500 students and 11 buildings and a lot of information is kept internally due to security issues.
NA safety and security committee’s next meeting is Jan. 18, in the Central Administration Offices at Hillvue Lane. All meetings are open to the public.