It began with a recording of a 911 call. “I am a teacher at Columbine High School. There is a student here with a gun,” echoed through the auditorium of Owen J. Roberts High School where more than 200 local school and law enforcement officials were gathered for the first Chester County Safe Schools Summit on January 31.
“That is the nightmare we are dealing with and that is why we are here tonight to address how to keep our students safe,” said District Attorney Thomas P. Hogan, the event’s keynote speaker, in reference to active shooter scenarios in school settings.
The countywide summit aimed to promote safe school environments, share best practices and foster collaboration between schools and community law enforcement partners. It was a joint initiative of the 12 school districts of Chester County, hosted by Owen J. Roberts School District Superintendent Dr. Michael Christian and facilitated by the Chester County Intermediate Unit (CCIU) in collaboration with local agencies.
“We are lucky to live in Chester County, where all of our schools have strong safety records,” said Dr. Joseph J. O’Brien, CCIU executive director. “However, in the aftermath of the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy, Chester County superintendents, like most superintendents across the nation, have been 130 percent preoccupied with school safety issues.”
Chester County District Attorney Thomas Hogan, Esq., delivered the keynote address and also served as a panelist for participant-submitted questions along with Lawrence Mauger, Owen J. Roberts School District Chief of Police; Chrissy DePaolantonio, Chester County Safe Schools Coordinator; Don Smith, Emergency Planning and Response Management Coordinator for the Center for Safe Schools; and Robyn Slater, Regional Vulnerable Populations Coordinator.
In his keynote address, District Attorney Hogan told attendees he was not going to “pull any punches.” Although the odds of a school shooting in Chester County are slim, thanks to high-quality law enforcement and proactive school safety planning, the odds are not “none.”
“Columbine and Sandy Hook were nice places, too,” he explained. “The fact that the odds are lower for us does not in any way mean that a school shooting couldn’t happen here. We need to be vigilant and we need to be fully prepared.”
He went on to discuss shooter profiles and law enforcement response, and shared his best practices for making Chester County’s schools safe. He strongly recommended that schools have a school safety plan, developed in partnership with local law enforcement, that is practiced at least twice a year.
During the panel discussion, his fellow panelist Don Smith, the Emergency Planning & Response Management Coordinator at the Center for Safe Schools, echoed this sentiment.
“You would not want the percussion, strings, brass and woodwinds in a band to only practice separately, and then bring them together for the concert,” he said. “It’s truly a community approach, in partnership with local responders, and that pre-planning involved in school safety is vital.”
Chester County schools have a free school safety planning resource in Chrissy DePaolantonio, the Chester County Safe Schools Coordinator, who informed the audience of the availability of school safety audits.
The panel discussion was followed by breakout sessions, including:
- Risk & Assessment Considerations: Post Sandy Hook – Presented by Peter Mango, owner of Signal 88 and former East Fallowfield Township Chief of Police
- Communicating with Stakeholders Before, During and After a Crisis – Presented by Beth Trapani, Communications Consultant
- Elements of Parent Child Reunification – Presented by Don Smith, Emergency Planning and Response Management Coordinator for the Center for Safe Schools
- First Responder Responsibilities – Presented by Lawrence Mauger, Chief of Police, Owen J. Roberts School District
- Prevention and Intervention Services in the Aftermath of Tragedy: What Works – Presented by Thom Stecher, President, Thom Stecher & Associates
“I’m pleased to see so many different people in attendance, including law enforcement, government leaders and school district officials, working towards the betterment of our school security situations,” said Trooper Cory Monthei, the public relations officer for the Avondale barracks. “We all have to work together, and based on this evening’s turnout, it’s clear that folks are dedicated to educating themselves and creating strategies to keep our kids safe in school.”
The first Chester County Safe Schools Summit was a resounding success, with over 200 Chester County school board members, superintendents, curriculum directors, administrators, safe school coordinators and law enforcement partners in attendance, and will be the first of many safe school summits in Chester County.
About the Chester County Intermediate Unit: The Chester County Intermediate Unit (CCIU) provides services to the 12 school districts in Chester County. This includes services to nearly 86,000 public and non-public school students and over 7,000 educators. CCIU's major services include: special education and compensatory education programs; career, technical and customized education; mentor training and staff development; technology initiatives; consortia for school business operations; and curriculum services.
The Chester County Intermediate Unit is one of 29 regional educational agencies established by law in Pennsylvania in 1971. Working between the Pennsylvania State Department of Education and the local school districts, the intermediate unit's mission is to provide services that can be offered most economically at the regional level. For more information about the CCIU, visit www.cciu.org.