The safety and security of our students is very important. Both the facility features and management procedures for each of our 14 school buildings have been scrutinized this past year through an external audit conducted by security and safety experts (local police departments, county emergency management officials, and Penn State staff).
This team of experts made many recommendations, including several for our high school campus. Beginning on the first day of school, Aug. 27, our high school buildings will be locked down during classes. Our campus model will function with more limited and supervised access points, as many of our students have selected a program requiring travel between our North and South buildings. When teachers and students are in their respective classrooms, we want our school community to understand that our facility is secured and does not permit anyone into the buildings who should not be present. Although this might seem to be a simple solution to the average person, doing so with a campus model (two buildings with a street between them) is more complex than meets the eye.
In regard to the many external visitors to our district classrooms, we continue to strengthen relationships with partners who help teachers enhance learning experiences. This includes appropriate visitors to our classrooms.
On Wednesday, a Centre Daily Times editorial referenced information relating to a situation that occurred in our high school this past year. In this instance, our high school’s visitor protocols were not followed. This aspect of the problem is a personnel matter that has been and continues to be addressed.
Please know that our firsthand interviews with the students and staff identified that the unauthorized visitor did visit the victim’s classroom for approximately 10-15 minutes on one instance in January. At that time, we did not follow our high school’s protocol for unauthorized school visitors. Our 2012-2013 faculty handbook states the following:
Visitation/Visitors: All visitors must report to the main office, sign in and get an identification tag. Nonstudent visitors must be accompanied by a staff member. This is a state and federal regulation and includes former students. If an unauthorized visitor is observed in the building, staff should send for an administrator immediately. If a visitor is lingering outside the building, security should be informed. Teachers/staff should inform their respective main offices if they are expecting a visitor and/or meeting visitors in the Main Office. Staff is expected to acquire prior approval from the building principal before inviting a guest speaker.
Our investigation includes multiple interviews with the student victim and her parent. These conversations identified that the unauthorized visitor was in fact in her class on one instance, as noted above. We are aware of several other unauthorized visits by this individual. When our principal learned of this unauthorized visitor, he involved State College police, who assisted in banning the person from our campus immediately.
Any information we learn that relates to this situation has been and continues to be shared with State College police. Our school resource officer was involved in this matter from the moment our principal became aware of the unauthorized visitor being in our school.
I am disappointed to share this type of update with you. We did make a mistake in allowing this person to be in our school without following our required protocols.
As we open the coming school year, we will increase the amount of focus on our protocols for safety and security, as well as finalize the above modifications to better secure our high school campus.
Bob O’Donnell is superintendent of the State College Area School District.