‘School safety is always evolving’ at Westmont Hilltop
‘School safety is always evolving’ at Westmont Hilltop
March 4—Westmont Hilltop High School students are greeted at the door each morning by a school police officer or security guard, an administrator and a school counselor.
Students are asked to remove hats and hoods upon entering the building, and if a student is seen behaving out of character, educators quickly check in and make sure everything is okay. The primary school system is similar.
The district’s security measures include hundreds of cameras, visitor screening and numerous mental health supports for students.
“School safety is always evolving,” said Superintendent Thomas Mitchell. “We’re always learning.”
The Westmont Hilltop investigation came after a 14-year-old girl left a threatening note at the high school on Jan. 30, then allegedly left another note and broke a window at the elementary school before being arrested early on Feb. 6. The window was replaced the same morning, officials said.
Since then, some parents have raised concerns with the school board about transparency and security.
After each incident, district and law enforcement officials cited juvenile laws and ongoing investigations as reasons why they couldn’t release more information to the public about what happened — even though school board members aim to improve in that area.
What was discovered was that police audio logs indicated that the suspect was in possession of a firearm when he was arrested on February 6th.
School officials say they are always working to improve safety measures moving forward.
“We do a lot,” Mitchell said. “We’re constantly working on both sides of this house.”
Mitchell said security cameras are regularly updated. There are a total of 260 cameras in two school buildings inside and outside the district. For example, the camera that produced a zoomed-in, cropped and grainy image of the suspect in the January 30 threat has already been replaced with a better model.
“We do everything we can to keep everyone safe,” said the district’s school police officer, Jason Hunter, who was hired in August. “We’re doing very well.”
Hunter has 35 years of experience in law enforcement and has spent most of his career with the Police Department in Conemaugh Township, Somerset County. Compared to his past police work, including working as a detective in the Somerset County District Attorney’s Office, he said, working with students at a school was a different but positive experience.
“It’s always something new,” Hunter said. “It helps to be parents and grandparents.”
He added that he knows the Conmaugh Township Area School District’s school police officer and Windbar Area School District’s school resource officer, and the three often discuss the ins and outs of their positions.
Westmont Hilltop secured a $240,000 Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD) grant in the fall and awarded its second state Safe Schools grant for a school police officer in February. These allocations are in addition to other security grants received in the past.
What resulted from the first grant were many of the district’s behavioral and physical baseline safety standards that meet PCCD’s Tier Three standards for best practices, Mitchell said, such as using school climate survey data to guide policy, implementing bullying prevention and engaging local police. to do district
With that funding, administrators plan to install alarms at magnetic access points on both exterior doors of school buildings and interior doors, including inside the high school gymnasium and knowledge commons, to create “pods” in case of emergencies and restrict access to parts of the school during extracurricular activities. can go
Some of the money will go towards mental health support, which is divided into three tiers.
The first level is “public” and affects nearly all high school students who have access to Sandy Hook Promise programming, including “Start with Hello” for seventh-graders and “Say Something” for sophomores; Prevention Program Botwin Life Skills; suicide prevention events; and Safe2Say assemblies and Rachel’s Challenge for clubs for seventh through 12th grade students.
In odd-numbered school years, students in each high school grade take the Pennsylvania Youth Survey, a universal behavioral health screener, and trauma-competent lessons.
The second tier of mental health support is designed for at-risk students and includes the recently approved Prevention-Based Blues Program, Healing Patch Grief and Loss Groups, and Victim Services Inc.’s programs.
The third tier includes targeted and intensive interventions for “high-risk students” that include alternative community resource programs, outpatient counseling, new REACH/RISE counselors, trauma counseling with victim services, and other impact-based outpatient counseling.
Westmont Hilltop employs five full-time school counselors in both buildings, as well as two social workers who are available to students.
For physical security, all exterior doors are locked after the start of the day and periodically checked by staff to ensure no unauthorized entry.
Other security measures include mesh overlays on classroom door windows that obscure the view inside, and shattering all glass in the district.
Each building has identification-checking devices in its foyer where guests must hold their driver’s license when visiting each school.
The district employs one full-time school police officer, Hunter, and two part-time school police officers and hires Gittings Protective Security Inc. for various services. Contracted with.
In total, Westmont spent about $800,000 last year on safety and mental health, Mitchell said.
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