Burgettstown Schools to establish on-campus police department

BURGETTSTOWN, Pa. – The Burgettstown School District will be incorporating its own on-campus police department as part of a pro-active measure to improve security at the district’s two buildings in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in December, which left 20 pupils and six school staffers dead.

Burgettstown Superintendent Deborah Jackson said the district administration and school board had lengthy discussions following the shooting about Burgettstown’s security and how the district could act to prevent such an attack in Burgettstown.

“We felt we needed to improve the security for the protection and safety of our students and staff,” said Jackson.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education has not offered any recommendations following the Sandy Hook shooting, but the decision was made locally to take action, said Jackson.

As the district administration and school board members began getting feedback from district parents, it has been positive and supportive, she said.

“When we shared our plans with parents, there was a lot of support,” Jackson said, adding several parents had spoken at a recent board meeting in favor of the measure.

Currently, once students arrive for the school day, both buildings are locked down, and those wanting to enter a school must identify themselves and state their business through a camera and intercom system, before school personnel allows them into the building. The district also has a security camera system in place.

Since Jan. 3, a Smith Township Police Department officer has been on campus between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. daily at a cost of $17.40 per hour to the school district. Jackson said this was a temporary measure until the district can hire its own officers and establish its own police department.

“Our students have taken very well to the officers,” she said. “They understand why they are here.”

Jackson said the district is seeking to hire two officers, one for each building, and district officials are looking for only certified law enforcement officers who are capable of all law enforcement duties, including investigations, and will have full police powers on the Burgettstown campus. The officers would be armed. She added district officials also plan to utilize the officers as resource officers at the schools. Both officers would work full-time and be at the campus throughout the school year and provide security at extra-curricular events.

“They would be responsible to me, and they would work in co-operation with Smith Township (Police),” said Jackson.

Jackson added she is actively seeking grant funding, likely through the Safe Schools program and federal grant money to fund the department.

“We need to provide the most secure, safe environment possible for our students and staff,” said Jackson. “Our students will learn better if they feel safe and secure.”

(Wallace-Minger can be contacted at swallace@pafocus.com)