By Evamarie Socha
The Daily Item
LEWISBURG — School board members Thursday night voted 8-0 to expand police service at Lewisburg Area schools under a pilot program in which Buffalo Valley Regional Police and state troopers will patrol grounds daily at the district’s four buildings, according to Superintendent Mark DiRocco.
The administration and board will re-evaluate the project this summer before deciding to whether continue it for the 2013-14 school year, DiRocco said.
The added patrols could cost the school district about $13,000 through June, though cost was not addressed in the motion before the board.
The district’s contingency fund for emergencies would cover the cost, DiRocco said in February.
Buffalo Valley police and state troopers quietly increased their patrols of Lewisburg schools after the December shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, which left 20 children and six adults dead.
“There’s been an increased presence since January,” school board President Kathy Swope said. “We’re looking to continue that” with the pilot program.
There was some opposition. During the public comment period, Lewisburg resident Josh Steiner told the board he’s against the move, calling it “security theater.”
Having more police presence is “reassuring the public rather than offering safety,” he said, and suggested instead spending the money for a social services worker for students.
Law enforcement would trump school rules, where “shoving matches would become battery charges,” for example, Steiner said.
“This reduces respect for police officers in the eyes of the children,” he said.
In later discussion, Director Dr. Tera Unzicker-Fassero said police would not discipline students as she understood the agreement; DiRocco said that’s correct.
Director Mark Hendrickson said he thought the additional presence would be good for students to build a relationship with police and learn to trust, rather than fear them.
DiRocco also said that it was not just police, but the school district’s entire emergency response plan and procedures that are under review. School officials met Feb. 19 with Donald Smith of the Center for Safe Schools for the first of four sessions in a meeting that included Buffalo Valley and state police, the Union County sheriff’s office, William Cameron Engine Company and Union County Emergency Management Services.
Shamokin recently announced it had received 10 applications for three armed police positions at its schools following its installation of four metal detectors in those buildings. Milton is considering rehiring a school resource officer and the Line Mountain district has mulled arming school staff.
Board Vice President Edward Zych was absent from the meeting.