A Canon-McMillan School director and Pennsylvania School Board Associations’ Board of Directors member told a panel of state Senate members that PSBA firmly believes school districts are vastly different throughout Pennsylvania in their security needs and, therefore, the best approaches to school safety must often be determined at the local school district level.
Joe Zupancic urged the General Assembly to consider various initiatives that address the diverse types of safety issues school districts must face.
Zupancic’s remarks on behalf of PSBA were made during a joint hearing of the Senate Education Committee and the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee Wdnesday.
The hearing focused on school emergency plans and security measures designed to ensure student safety and increase school-to-parent communication in an emergency.
Zupancic said that amid the understandable sorrow in the aftermath of the recent school violence events, educational leaders, parents and lawmakers must work together on solutions, some of which require action by the General Assembly.
“Without question, children need to feel safe in order to be attentive in school and to achieve academically,” Zupancic said. “It is our responsibility as school board members to effectively govern our school districts so that our schools remain safe and that children may learn without fear of danger. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to providing safe school environments.”
During his testimony, Zupancic addressed the diverse types of safety issues school districts must deal with including both internal and external threats, and informed legislators of the steps the association is taking to help school boards, including the development of new and revised model policies regarding the new Chapter 10 Safe Schools regulations to incorporate safety measures associated with emergency preparedness and effective relations with local law enforcement officials.
PSBA’s testimony also suggested the need for various legislative solutions, but clarified it has not taken a position on gun control and its recommendations focus strictly on school-based safety.
Such solutions include legislation that would ensure school districts can enhance, upgrade or install appropriate safety and security measures. The cost of security projects is complicated by a low Act 1 base index this year of 1.7 percent and by the fact that a PlanCon construction moratorium has been implemented.
Other legislative solutions suggested include the following:
- Upgrade the Professional Educator Discipline Act to more fully address misconduct by school staff, require all school employees to report all arrests, and enact “passing the trash” legislation to provide for more thorough background checks and disclosure of information of applicants for school positions involving direct contact with children.
- Clarify that school boards can discuss security and safety measures in executive session.
- Direct the Pennsylvania Department of Education, state Emergency Management Agency, and other involved agencies to review and enhance technical assistance they offer to schools.
- Increase the availability of threat reporting avenues for students.
- Allow school districts more authority to investigate and take disciplinary action for student misconduct and allow school districts to give full faith and credit to other districts’ disciplinary decisions.
- Amend child protection statutes by giving specific attention to school board involvement in mitigating damage and helping school districts prevent future incidences of misconduct.
- On the issue of law enforcement officers or school resource officers being in schools, PSBA asked that local school boards be able to retain the authority to review and decide what safety protocols are necessary rather than having this issue mandated by the state legislature.
Full text of the testimony given by Zupancic on behalf of PSBA can be found online at www.psba.org/issues-advocacy/advocacy-services/legislative-testimony/.