Shamokin Area hoping for smoother process with metal detectors today
COAL TOWNSHIP - School officials will shake up the security process this morning at Shamokin Area Middle/High School following a 90-minute delay to the start of school Tuesday.
Instead of each student passing through upright metal detectors, only a portion of the estimated 1,140 students will be chosen to go through the security process, said Chris Venna, school principal.
For example, if the number is "three," every third student entering the building will be asked to stand in line and go through security.
"Hopefully that will alleviate the time problem we had today," Venna said after school ended Tuesday. "Obviously we'll evaluate it tomorrow and see how it goes. It's something we'll have to monitor and continue to stay on top of."
Students will continue to be segregated by gender when they enter the building, with males entering near the auditorium and females near the gymnasium.
The school board approved the purchase of four upright metal detectors in January at a reported cost of $16,400. Combined with the eventual hire of three armed security guards to work at each district school building, it was the district's response following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
There are two metal detectors at the middle/high school and two more at the district elementary schools, but the latter are only for visitors. Elementary students are not required to pass through the metal detectors.
The start of school was delayed Tuesday morning as students worked their way through metal detectors for the first time.
No prohibited items were found by the detectors, Venna said.
Doors to the building opened to students at 7:10 a.m. The lines were long as the process moved slowly, the scene reminiscent of what travelers encounter at a busy airport.
The male line finished about 8:55 a.m.; however, the female line moved more slowly and at that time there were an estimated 150 still waiting. They waited patiently and were well-behaved, with the morning's warm weather easing the burden of waiting outdoors. Venna complimented the students for being "cooperative and flexible."
"OK ladies, plan accordingly tomorrow. Belts and cell phones set it off," Anthony Carnuccio, assistant principal, told those at the end of the line as a warning to empty pockets and remove belts before passing through a detector. "If you don't need it, don't bring it."
Olivia Hausman and Daisy Barrett, both eighth-graders, and freshman Kiah Carl were among a group of friends waiting toward the back of the female line. They noted they'd been there 90 minutes and would wait another 30 before being admitted. The delay interrupted their school day and kept them standing outdoors, but they all laughed when they said their parents told them to "deal with it."
After students entered the school, they reported to homeroom and remained there during the delay. The last student passed through a metal detector at 9:35 a.m. and classes began at 9:40 a.m.
The first four periods were reduced to 20 minutes each.
Normal homeroom start is 7:45 a.m. and the first class starts at 8:02 a.m.
Calls come in
More than a few parents called the school and district offices to voice their displeasure.
Brian Persing, school board president, said the long-term solution could be to purchase up to two more metal detectors to speed up the process at the middle/high school. Bringing the machines over from the elementary in the interim would "defeat the purpose," he said.
Venna and district Superintendent James Zack said some kinks could work themselves out now that students have been exposed to the process. A second time through today could make it easier, they said.
Both are mindful that the delays cut into time spent in the classroom.
"That's why we've got to speed this up. You don't want to take an hour out of the instructional day," Zack said, adding that it's the district's responsibility to also work to heighten student safety.
A trial run in May would have helped smooth the process, Zack said, but "everything was not in place" to do so.