CLEARFIELD – Many parents were on hand at Monday night’s Clearfield school board meeting concerned with how the school district handled a lockdown situation earlier in the day and offering suggestions for the future.
“I hope we never get good at this,” Superintendent Terry Struble stated, indicating that it is his wish, as well as the wish of everyone in the district, that something like this never happens again.
Struble read from a prepared statement, which he then gave to the press. The statement read as follows:
“At approximately 9:50 a.m., the high school office was notified of a flier that had been altered by a student’s handwriting indicating there would be a shooting Feb. 26 and or 27 at the school. Graffiti was written on a toilet paper dispenser with the same message.
“Lawrence Township police were notified and an officer was dispatched to the schools. Following our safety procedures, we did an external lockdown of our schools.
“Doors as always locked, but we took the extra precaution today with even our staff that they had to come in and out through the offices to help us confirm that all doors were locked. This was then verified by building staff.
“We also, during an external lockdown, ask that any parents not expected at the school to call ahead so that we can expect them during these busier times with calls and office functions.
“The elementary was also locked down at this point as an extra precaution until our initial investigation could be completed.
“By 10:10 a.m. Chief (Doug) Clark and other officers were en route along with the (Pennsylvania) State Police K-9s to help with any needed search.
“Chief Clark spoke with all students in grades 7-12 and then students were returned to classrooms and an internal lockdown occurred while the K-9s cleared the building of any substantial concerns.
“While these processes were occurring, students were being interviewed about potential information they may have known, or not known. Personal belongings were also being searched, in addition to cell phones as appropriate.
“During this time, we also have the help of Juvenile Probation in our process.
“At 10:37 a.m. as the process was ongoing, a message was dispatched through Sapphire via voice and e-mail that the schools were in lockdown.
“During the process, as information became clearer about what was happening and our level of concerns, we were able to make adjustments to what was happening at the elementary school and also at the Junior-Senior High School.
“A determination was made that the treat was unfounded. Our process will be ongoing.
“Two weeks ago, we may have spent time reviewing the cameras first, determining who was in and out of the restrooms, and then working through the process.
“A determination was made early on that we did not want to wait while our process would take time and instead move forward with full steps of caution.”
Struble added that the township police will return to the school Tuesday to conduct further interviews and investigate further.
The board then opened the floor to the public.
Jill Foster spoke first and said that the district needs to work on keeping the parents better informed. Later she added that communication with the parents and teachers would have calmed fears and also prevented some of the social media uproar and misinformation.
“I think that’s the biggest issue, that there needs to be better communication,” she said.
Angie Peters asked if the board has considered active shooter drills, noting that younger children, such as her own daughter, would not know what to do if they were in the restroom and someone started shooting. In her daughter’s case, she would go looking for her (Mrs. Peters), who works at the school.
Other parents brought up the issue of autistic children who would not know the appropriate way to react and might shut down and not react at all. They asked that when the administration considers future action they take children with special needs into consideration.
Another concern raised by several parents was that some of the elementary children were outside during the lockdown and they did not understand who made that decision and why.
Robin Fulton said she went to the elementary school to pick up her daughter, due to an appointment, and saw children outside and asked in the office if the lockdown was over and was told they were still on external lockdown. “That concerned me as a parent,” she said.
Parents were also concerned about information being disseminated on local media, including the radio and GANT News.
Parents learned on the radio that students at the junior-senior high school were being gathered in the auditorium and one mother said that anyone listening would know where the children were and could then act on that information.
There were also concerns voiced about a picture of the graffiti in the bathroom appearing on GANT News. That photo was not posted by GANT but by one of the commenters.
Adam Dysart asked if the schools were considering bringing back armed security guards like they had in the 1990’s. The resource officers were eliminated due to budget cuts. He said: “I hate to say it, but the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
Struble and other board members thanked the parents for their concern. Struble said they are looking into options and reviewing what happened in order to improve.
The board is holding an informational meeting to discuss what the district can do to better protect and prepare staff and students.
Struble said to the press after the meeting that the informational meeting was scheduled after the recent Florida school shooting.
He agreed that they need to keep parents better informed as the district has new information, adding that providing accurate information would help dispel rumors that spread on social media.