The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


March 12, 2014

Districts prep to defuse kids who threaten

Valley school officials are trained to react swiftly when a student lashes out violently against peers, faculty or staff, and that training has been put to the test this academic year.

In February, Middleburg police were called to Midd-West High School after student Tyler Sees, 18, of Mount Pleasant Mills, threatened to kill a teacher who had just disciplined another juvenile student for refusing to remove headphones. Sees is now facing criminal charges as an adult.

In October, a Shikellamy High student was taken into custody by Sunbury police after she threatened to shoot a principal and another student. Unspecified charges were filed against the juvenile.

At the time, Sunbury police Chief Steve Mazzeo said that calls to his department from the school rose more than 50 percent in the past year.

Daphne Snook, acting superintendent at Midd-West, said the district has focused on prevention by offering safety care training to faculty and teaching assistants as well as emotional support programs to students at all levels.

“The safety care training provides de-escalation strategies for dealing with an agitated teen,” Snook said.

Three employees, Amanda Ramsey, Todd VanKirk and David Fassett, are certified trainers and 32 employees, or about 20 percent of the staff, have participated in the annual two-day training course in the past three years.

“It’s important enough to the district to invest in that training,” Snook said.

At Warrior Run, the schools try to reinforce positive behavior to “try and keep students on a clear path,” Superintendent John Kurelja said.

With a student enrollment of just under 1,600, he said, administrators, staff and teachers are familiar with most of the families and when a student acts out in a violent or threatening manner, it’s usually not a surprise.

“It’s almost unheard of for a student’s big blowup to be the first time they’ve been in trouble,” Kuleja said.

When it comes to threats, though, school officials don’t hesitate to call police.

“We’re obligated to take it seriously. With the state of society today, you can’t assume someone’s joking or blowing off steam,” Selinsgrove Area School Superintendent Chad Cohrs said. “If you’re on the receiving end, you’re definitely taking that threat seriously.”

Police are trained to assess the credibility of a threat, Cohrs said, and after interviewing parents and visiting homes, they will often report findings to school officials to help them determine whether the student is fit to return to school.

According to the district’s student code of conduct, a student may be suspended for up to 10 days for an infraction and expelled if a threat is deemed credible.

Local law enforcement with ties to the district have also helped keep the school safe, Kurelja said.

“We have a number of state troopers who are part of the community and volunteer in the classroom or as coaches,” he said. “Students don’t just see them in cars, but as part of the community.”


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