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Brandywine Heights Area School Board tabled their vote Monday on whether or not to have a two-month trial period with an unarmed guard in the district.
Discussing the matter over the past two months, some board members felt that it was unnecessary to keep an armed guard in the school, though Superintendent Dr. Martin Handler wanted whoever KRE Security/Investigations, Inc., Hamburg, hires to be armed.
“There is a lot more that needs to be done before we can move forward with this,” Handler said at the end of the regular meeting on Monday.
Handler gave three reasons why he felt he needed to take the vote off of the agenda. He first felt that an unarmed guard, which is what the majority of the board wanted, would be a bad use of the school’s funds. He also said that he looked over KRE’s proposal and wanted to make changes to it, which involved more research.
He finally stated that the two-month trial period that the board wanted to see if the guard was effective, was not enough time to evaluate the person who is hired to see if it is worth pursuing a longer contract with KRE.
A previous motion on whether to vote for an armed guard in the buildings at a prior meeting did not pass. Board members Elizabeth Huhn, Cheryl Eyrich, Roger Bollinger and Bryan Rothermel voted no.
“If we still had the Berks-Lehigh (Regional) Police, we wouldn’t be having this discussion,” Handler said to the board.
The main concern among board members is the response time from the State Police, Reading barracks. Handler mentioned that a few weeks ago there was a bus accident where no children were hurt but the person who crashed into the bus needed to get to the hospital and it was roughly a 40 minute wait.
Huhn wondered how the person would divide their time between the three schools and if the response time would be any better considering that railroad tracks divide the district and separates the schools.
“Even if the person were stuck because of a train coming through, the three to four minute wait would still be better than the response time from the state police,” Handler said.
At a meeting on Feb. 4, the board requested that Handler work with KRE to come up with a list of duties to see that the person hired would not just be sitting around waiting for something to happen.
Handler, along with Jarrod Emes and Jim Wilson of KRE, worked to come up with a list of 26 responsibilities for the resource officer to have. The job description also included items that the resource officer will not do which includes supervising children without another adult present.
Emes and Wilson met with the head of security in Governor Mifflin to come up with the job description for the job. The security guard of Governor Mifflin is unarmed but gave the duo a good idea of what a security guard in a school district would do, they said.
Huhn felt that the most important aspects of the job description were the emergency response and planning duty, providing reports and training students, staff and holding public forums for parents in the district. Other duties included patrolling the building.
The job description indicates that the candidate will have to be a retired police officer. Huhn believed that this could narrow out a lot of good candidates.
“If there is someone who has been on the force for 10 years and wants to quit, why wouldn’t we hire them?” Huhn asked.
According to Handler there are not enough resources for someone who just quit the police force to live on based on what they are offering.
As the discussion moved to the audience, many believed that the guard should be unarmed and supported the idea of a trial period for the unarmed guard.
Dax Funderberk of Longswamp suggested that most of the controversy within the community over the issue is whether or not the individual be armed.
“I’d be hard pressed to find a business in the area that is responsible for 1,500 to 2,000 people every day that doesn’t have a full-time person thinking about security,” Funderburk said.
Funderberk felt that a lot of the friction within the community and the board is over whether or not this individual should be armed.
“Let’s take the friction out of the equation and let’s get rid of the armed aspect.”
Sarah Brown, a paraprofessional at Brandywine Heights Elementary School, believes that the district should focus on the security infrastructure rather than arming an individual.
“I went to Upper Perkiomen where a student came in late with a weapon in his backpack and in two seconds it was over and he walked out,” Brown said.
Brown was referring to a 1993 incident in Upper Perkiomen where Jason Michael Smith, 15 at the time, shot and killed someone he felt was bullying him.
“There is nothing that an armed person in the building would have been able to do to prevent that,” Brown said.
Brown believes that the school district should focus on keeping people out rather than anticipating for them to come in. The school board is about to spend $22,908 to improve the security systems that they have at all of the schools.
“Should we really be spending money on a security guard when we’re going to spend almost $23,000 on security upgrades?” Funderberk asked.
Handler will report back to board at the end of April to tell the board what new information he’s found regarding security personnel for the Brandywine Heights Area School District.