June 24, 2008

Head Of State Police Discusses School Safety At Conference

By Madelyn Pennino

State police Commissioner Jeffrey Miller told a group of about 50 educators Monday that preventing school violence starts with being prepared.

Miller spoke at Millersville University as part of the school's two-day conference on school violence.

Miller began his presentation with a slide show that chronicled the Nickel Mines school shooting tragedy.

The Nickel Mines tragedy took place Oct. 2, 2006, when a gunman barricaded himself in an Amish schoolhouse in Bart Township and shot 10 girls, five of whom died.

School violence continues to be a hot issue in education, in part because of the shootings at Virginia Tech University in April 2007.

Miller told educators that taking such pre-emptive measures as implementing emergency plans with first responders and searching students for weapons can prevent violence in schools.

None of this is rocket science. Random searches provide a deterrent effect, Miller said. Students won't know if today is the day they are going to be searched.

Miller also said it's important for school officials to speak in clear, plain language and not use code words during an emergency.

With the increase in school violence over the years, Miller said he's shocked that some schools don't enforce the simplest safety measures like locking their doors.

I'm still amazed that I continue to see schools open throughout the day, Miller said. It's a recipe for disaster.

Not only are taking steps like these important, Miller said, but it's also crucial for people who work in schools to accept and enforce safety rules.

People think that (violence) won't happen in their school, Miller said. But if can happen in a one-room schoolhouse, it can happen anywhere.

That means every person who is working in or visiting a school needs to wear identification, Miller said.

They shouldn't be able to walk three feet within a building without being stopped without a school ID badge, Miller said.

The School of Education at Millersville is sponsoring the conference for teachers, principals, superintendents, school counselors psychologists, school safety officials, law-enforcement personnel and university faculty. The conference is open to the public.

This morning, there will be several speakers at the conference including Hilda Quiroz-Graham, a program developer with the National School Safety Center.

Quiroz-Graham will speak about bullying on the primary and secondary school levels and conduct workshops on the topic for educators and parents this afternoon.

Miller said ultimately schools need to do what is necessary to protect students and staff.

We don't have to turn our schools into an army encampment unless we have to do it, Miller said. I know there are dangerous groups out there that like to terrorize people by flying planes into buildings or trying to take away our kids.

Miller said school districts can contact the state police Risk and Violence Assessment Team to setup evaluations in which community- service officers evaluate and advise schools on their safety and violence prevention plans.

It's one more way to make certain schools are safe, Miller said. It's a roadmap to make changes.

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