Upper St. Clair to add armed police to all schools
Aug. 22, 2018
Upper St. Clair to add armed police to all schools
The Upper St. Clair School Board approved measures to provide an armed school police officer in each of its six schools. The action was approved during the school board’s meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018.
The school police force will increase from three in the 2017-18 school year to six full-time police officers as well as one 12-month and one 10-month school security officers. Three of the school police officers, each with 20+ years of law enforcement experience, were hired on Wednesday and are expected to join the Upper St. Clair staff early this fall.
“The safety of our students and staff is our highest priority. Those words are not merely a slogan; we live by them. Safety and security is one of five pillars of our strategic plan, and we have worked diligently across multiple fronts to create the safest possible environment,” School Board President Amy Billerbeck said. “Many of us have children who attend Upper St. Clair schools. We live here, too. This is our community, and we all have a vested interest in keeping it secure.”
During the transition period for hiring and training officers, the school district will utilize the services of the Allegheny County Police Department in order to provide an armed police presence in the district’s six schools beginning on the first day of school – Monday, Aug. 27, 2018.
“Our safety initiatives are not a knee-jerk reaction,” Mrs. Billerbeck said. “Rather, they represent a continuation of thoughtful planning built on years of work and best practices.”
Upper St. Clair’s school police officers are all Act 120 Certified. Act 120 is known as the Municipal Police Officers' Training Academy, a program that gives trainees the skills they need in order to become successful police officers. The program includes a 919-hour curriculum plus an addition 27 hours of testing.
Within the last few years a growing number of school districts throughout the nation have moved to armed safety officers. In suburban Allegheny County, several larger school districts have made that decision including the Bethel Park, Gateway, Montour, North Allegheny, North Hills, Plum and West Jefferson Hills school districts.
In May, Upper St. Clair School District welcomed a new chief of school police, Sean Bryson, who was a 20-year member of the Arlington County Police Department in Virginia and an Upper St. Clair High School graduate. Upon his arrival, Chief Bryson was tasked with conducting a needs assessment of the district’s current safety and security practices including staffing, training and expertise.
“Providing an armed, highly trained school police force is widely considered best practices in school safety and security,” Chief Bryson said. “We are fortunate to be building a staff with significant experience and specialized training in law enforcement.”
These new safety measures follow a continuum of enhancements that have been underway as part of the district’s 2015-2020 strategic plan.
“Our district has committed significant resources to help ensure that we are following best practices in the area of school safety,” Dr. John T. Rozzo, superintendent of schools, said. “It is the most important of the five focus areas of our district’s strategic plan.”
In addition to bolstering the district’s school police force, this spring the school board approved funding to increase student support services including a secondary school counselor and a school psychologist.
“This increase in staffing is designed to better support students’ social and emotional well-being as well as to enhance student relationships and connectivity to school,” Amy Pfender, director of student support services, said.
The district’s elementary and middle schools embrace the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, which is designed to improve peer relations and increase connections among students, staff members and each other.
Middle school students, grades 5-8, participate in a designated guidance class as part of their regular class schedule. School counselors provide information and instruction on a variety of developmentally appropriate topics including online safety, social media, study skills, appropriate online behavior, conflict resolution, responsible decision-making as well as drug and alcohol prevention.
Upper St. Clair High School has taken a proactive approach to creating a positive school climate. High school students have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of their classmates through their involvement in the Natural Helpers, Peer Mentor, Peer Tutoring, Partners in Physical Education, Partners in SHOP, SMART Desk and Leadership Academy programs.
Upper St. Clair School District has a video security system with 240 cameras across the district. The system is accessible by district administrators, principals, school police, and the Upper St. Clair Township police and fire departments. The district is adding an additional 40 security cameras this fall to various school buildings. Beginning this school year, all Upper St. Clair School District buses are also equipped with audio/video surveillance.
All six schools are equipped with secure entrances as well as a visitor management system that quickly screens visitors against the registered sex offender databases in all 50 states. In addition, as required by law, all school, classroom and extra curricular staff and volunteers complete child abuse and criminal history clearances.
The district’s phone system has a 911 notification feature that pinpoints the call to the exact location in the building and alerts all district administrators, school police, and the building’s emergency team. In addition, enhancements have been made to the paging systems in the schools, which assist in communicating emergency announcements to staff and students. This upcoming school year, the district is researching improvements to various communication systems, which include two-way radios, cellular communications and backup/diverse phone communication lines.
This past spring the Upper St. Clair Parent Teacher Council hosted its semi-annual Open Mic, which focused heavily on school safety and security. The event provides an opportunity for the district’s superintendent of schools as well as a team of administrators to discuss topics of interest, which typically include school safety and security; capital improvement projects, the budget and financial challenges facing the school district; programs and initiatives; and more. Significant dialogue occurs among attendees and district representatives.
The next Open Mic event, which is open to the entire Upper St. Clair community, will be held in the evening this fall on a date to be determined. The fall event is typically scheduled for 7 p.m. and the spring event at 10 a.m. Both events are held in the Boyce Middle School theatre.
- Video of the school board meeting airs on the public access television station (Comcast channel 19 and Verizon channel 41) at 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. daily.
- Read the School Board Meeting Report