Shamokin Area focuses on security
Editor's note: This is the sixth article in a series on local schools preparing for the new year.
COAL TOWNSHIP - The new school year brings with it an increased emphasis on security at Shamokin Area School District.
Metal detectors will greet students at the middle/high school building. They'll also be in place for visitors to the elementary buildings.
Three armed guards will be patrolling hallways in all district buildings.
And restrictions on backpacks are in place.
The new security measures, an effort to prevent school violence, came in the wake of December's massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. It could at first prove an inconvenience, but district officials hope it will keep students, faculty and staff safer in the long run.
Clear backpacks are a requirement for all elementary students, no exceptions.
Middle/high school students are not required to use the clear backpacks and can continue to tote opaque backpacks to school everyday. However, they'll no longer be allowed to take them from class to class. They're to be put inside their lockers first thing in the morning and not be removed until the end of the day, said Chris Venna, middle/high school principal.
Athletes and others who may need to bring an oversized backpack will be allowed to store it in a locked room. Instrument cases and containers for medical devices will also be inspected.
Warnings will be relayed to parents of elementary students who show up on the first day of school with a backpack that doesn't meet the policy. After that, any backpack that's not transparent will be confiscated. The student will be allowed to remove its contents but won't get the backpack until the end of the school day, said Mary Teresa Komara, elementary principal.
Students can personalize the clear backpacks to their heart's desire, she said. Label them. Write on them.
Paste them with stickers. Just be sure the backpack itself is see-through.
Remove all metal
What the district's 1,425 elementary students won't be doing during the 2013-14 school year is walking through metal detectors. That measure is only for visitors at the main elementary building on the district campus and the elementary annex in Shamokin.
No visitors will be accepted at the elementary buildings between 11 and 11:30 a.m. daily. Same goes for the middle/high school, tentatively.
"I don't think (elementary students) need to experience going through metal detectors at that age," Komara said. "I just don't want metal detectors to make them afraid to come to school."
Middle/high school students won't have an option.
All students in grades 7 to 12 will be required to empty their pockets and remove any metal on them before passing through the metal detectors.
It will be important for students to be prudent in doing so.
If they set off the detector on the first try, they'll get another chance to find the offending object and remove it. If it goes off again, the student will have to wait for the line to die down for a security guard to inspect them with a hand wand, Venna said.
Girls will enter the building at the gymnasium and boys at the auditorium.
Teachers trained on the machines will supervise the process, but, "the teachers will not be searching students," Venna said.
Visitors, too, will pass through the metal detectors. They'll also be asked to have a state-issued ID card scanned. That requirement will apply all three district buildings.
Detectors start week 2
The process went smoothly when it was tried out during summer school, Venna said. It'll be a much greater test when the estimated 1,140 middle/high school students return.
That test won't come when school opens Monday. The metal detectors will not be used formally until the second week of school, beginning Sept. 3.
There will a trial run and information shared on the machines during the first week, Venna said, and flexibility will be shown to students with physical and mental disabilities.
Venna admitted it'll take a lot of time to move the student population through the detectors, even with the lines split in two. In turn, doors to the school will open 15 minutes earlier this year, at 7:10 a.m. He encourages students who wish to avoid a long line to show up early.
Homeroom begins at 7:45 a.m., with first period beginning at 8:02 a.m. Anyone in line by the start of homeroom will not be marked as tardy, Venna said.
"This is for safety and security procedures. It's not to inconvenience or target anybody. However, students are going to have to understand that they are going to be inconvenienced much like people who flew pre-9/11 and post-9/11 were inconvenienced," Venna said.
"We feel it's going to make the building safer and it's going to be a good thing. Students are pretty good at being flexible. I think after a few weeks it will be streamlined," Venna said.