Our View | School safety talk should continue

July 31, 2013 

The State College Area School District will have an updated safety plan in place when the new school year arrives on Aug. 27.

That plan will involve locking down the two high school buildings, and limiting access points on the Westerly Parkway campus.

Superintendent Bob O’Donnell outlined the changes in a column we published Saturday, as he responded to our editorial following police reports of an unauthorized individual gaining access to the high school while classes were in session.

That person was charged with stalking a 17-year-old student.

“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,” O’Donnell wrote.

We appreciate the district’s quick response to a troubling situation, and we urge O’Donnell to provide additional updates during the fallout from the stalking case.

He said maintaining safety protocols in a two-building setup “is more complex than meets the eye.”

We don’t doubt that’s true.

However, all school districts are charged with providing a safe learning environment for their students.

That means establishing and following sound protocols, and correcting any problems that arise.

The superintendent called the admission of an unauthorized 25-year-old man to State High halls and a classroom “a personnel matter that has been and continues to be addressed.” And he communicated general steps the district will take going forward.

O’Donnell must also continue to discuss specific measures taken to address the situation that has already occurred, even if names and other details are protected because this is “a personnel matter.”

Following an editorial here criticizing the district for allowing a breach of safety standards to occur, O’Donnell acknowledged that “we did not follow our high school’s protocol for unauthorized school visitors.”

We do applaud the district’s willingness to respond to this incident, and to take quick steps to further protect its students.

But this can’t be the end of the discussion on this matter.

The school district is seeking community support for a high school project. We expect a new high school complex would feature enhanced safety devices and stronger measures for protecting staff and students.

But the human element must also be considered.

As we’ve seen, rules in a handbook are only effective when people understand and follow them.

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