June 18, 2019
The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, in February 2018, and other school shootings like it, have led to a lot of difficult conversations about guns, access to them, and the measures that could be taken by schools, school districts and other education professionals to prevent such violence.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed a law known as Act 44 in June 2018, a few months after the Parkland tragedy. The legislation created a School Safety and Security Committee (SSSC), which operates under the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. In addition to establishing standards for school safety assessments, it administers grants to Pennsylvania school districts.
The Philadelphia School District received the largest grant – $3.8 million – while the Upper Darby School District was awarded $2.3 million and the Norristown Area School District received $1.5 million. They were the only three districts in the state to receive more than $1 million in the round. The Philadelphia Charter School for Arts and Sciences was awarded $520,680, and several other city charter schools received funds as well.
Other grant recipients included the Abington School District, Bucks County Intermediate Unit #22, the Chester-Upland School District, the Coatesville Area School District, the Council Rock School District, the Great Valley School District, the Hatboro-Horsham School District, the Haverford Township School District, the North Penn School District, the Southeast Delco School District and the West Chester Area School District.
The Philadelphia district received grants for three of the 22 categories in which they granted: "development and implementation of research-based violence prevention programs," security planning and "purchase of security-related technology," and "trauma-informed approaches to education."
According to district spokesman H. Lee Whack, the district will spend the majority of the grant on electronic security equipment, including CCTV cameras and digital radios. Other funds from the grant will go to "Trauma Informed Professional Development," as well as some administrative costs.
The Upper Darby School District, meanwhile, will use its more than $2 million grant on everything from a central locking system that allows staff to "lock the school down with the push of a button," to "an air lock entry system at the high school, high school door sensors and cameras, central locking system at high school, crisis go app, enhance C.C.T.V. system in all schools, restorative practice, and sensor/swipe card entry at secondary schools," said Lou Gentile, the Upper Darby district's director of public safety.
The district had sought more than $4 million, he added.
"Upper Darby has taken proactive steps in our approach to safety and security before and after Parkland," Gentile said. The district has hired security guards, most of whom are "former police officers or have a strong security background," although the school board has not approved armed security guards.
Another Philadelphia-area school district, the Lower Merion School District on the Main Line, used an SSSC grant to fund the purchase of a new door-locking system at all of its schools.
"These locks can be used quickly inside of classrooms to secure doors, so that even if the window glass is broken and the door handle accessed, the doors won’t open," district spokeswoman Amy Buckman said.
The $25,000 grant, Buckman added, covered all but $300 of the cost for the Nightlock door security devices.
The Lower Merion district has unarmed guards working at all elementary schools, and Buckman said they will be added at secondary schools next year. All district staff have been trained in “Run Hide Fight," the preferred protocol for active shooter situations, she added. Upper Darby uses that protocol as well.
The grants were part of last year's budget, but Harrisburg, in addition to the bill about arming guards, is debating how much to distribute in the current budget.
One state senator, Mike Regan of Cumberland, wants to increase the amount of money for safety grants to $100 million, up from $40 million, with an additional $25 million going to the Department of Education’s Safe Schools grants, per the Penn Capital-Star.
Act 44 did not allow districts to arm security guards in schools, but a bill to allow districts that option passed the state Senate this week, Penn Live reported.
Some proposals were brought up in the days after the Parkland shooting, and that included arming teachers directly. One Pennsylvania school district, Tamaqua Area School District in Schuylkill County, announced plans to do just that, although the district's school board voted in January to suspend that policy.