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COMMUNITY CONVERSATION ABOUT SAFETY

On Thursday, February 22, Governor Mifflin residents joined together in a community conversation regarding safety in Governor Mifflin schools. Superintendent Dr. Steve Gerhard was joined by Berks County District Attorney John Adams, and Dr. Ed Michalik, Governor Mifflin School Board Member and Berks County Director of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities. Also in attendance were Governor Mifflin School Board Members and Rep. Ryan Costello (R-PA 6th District).

There were four objectives for the conversation:

  1. Clarify the facts stemming from an incident involving a photo on social media.
  2. Review channels of communication to help reinforce a community partnership in keeping our kids safe
  3. Review district safety practices for response and prevention
  4. Hear suggestions from the community on ways to continue to find ways to create a safe schools environment for students and staff

Clarify the facts stemming from an incident involving a photo on social media.

Friday, February 16: District administrators were made aware of a student social media post. The post on Snapchat was a photo of a student wearing a ski mask with the caption “School shooter selfie.” The photo was originally posted in early January, but was not reported to district officials until February 16. The same post was independently reported to the Berks County District Attorney’s Office and and detectives, along with an agent from the FBI, conducted an investigation that lasted through the weekend of (February 17-18). The investigation officially concluded on Tuesday, February 20.

According to District Attorney John Adams, “We interviewed the appropriate people and looked at social media.  Nothing got to the level where criminal charges could ever be considered.  It was an inappropriate use of social media.  I want to caution all of you.  This should be a lesson to all parents.  This was posted well before the incident in Florida.  There was not threat and no ability for the student to access weapons. We determined there was no threat early on.”

Tuesday, February 20, district administrators met and discussed the circumstances of the investigation and the fact that the photo had been posted for more than a month prior to being reported. At the time, only a handful of parents had called about the situation and the decision was made not to put out a mass communication, but rather to address parent concerns as they were received.

Wednesday, February 21, several unsubstantiated rumors began to materialize on social media and within the community. By 10:30 a.m., district administrators were made aware that parents were calling the high school and some families were choosing to pick up their students from school. At 10:49 a.m., Dr. Steve Gerhard sent out a mass communication via the ConnectED system assuring parents that there was no threat made to the school. The message was also posted on the district website, Facebook and Twitter. However, approximately half of the students left the high school with parents or of their own accord. After seeing the response, district administration made the decision to hold a community meeting on February 22.

Review channels of communication to help reinforce a community partnership in keeping our kids safe

The Governor Mifflin School District has several communication channels that it utilizes to keep parents informed on a daily basis and in the event of an emergency. The district provides mass messages through the ConnectED system and on the district website at www.governormifflinsd.org. The district also maintains an active social media presence on Facebook and Twitter.

The district urges community members to report not repeat rumors or discussion of school threats, safety issues, etc. If you have first-hand knowledge of information about a school threat or rumor, please contact your child’s school. You can also call the Governor Mifflin Office of Safe Schools or the Governor Mifflin Education Center/Office of the Superintendent.

Review district safety practices for response and prevention

“There is nothing more important than the relationship our staff has with our students.  First and foremost, the most powerful thing we can do is create an environment where students have hope,” Dr. Steve Gerhard said during the community meeting.

Governor Mifflin School District also employs two armed school police officers.  Governor Mifflin is the only school district to have armed school police officers on staff.  Director of Safe Schools, John Yount leads active intruder training for staff and oversees safety drills for students, including run, hide, fight drills, safety drills.  Our Office of Safe Schools also conducts  proactive and preventative work through the mentorship of students and development of a peer mentor program.

Governor Mifflin administrators regularly perform table-top scenario drills from the district’s All Hazards Plan.

In the fall, the Governor Mifflin School District worked with the Pennsylvania State Police to complete a risk and vulnerability study and will complete another in the coming months.

The district also uses the RAPTOR system, a system that requires visitors to produce a valid ID to enter a school building.

Hear suggestions from the community on ways to continue to find ways to create a safe schools environment for students and staff

Several community members spoke at the meeting and provided the suggestions/feedback for consideration. District administrators will be discussing practices and protocols in the coming weeks. Suggestions/feedback included:

Parents should be made of all investigations taking place within the district

Parents should receive details about an active investigation

How can parents know about practices that are in place to protect students while an investigation is being conducted?

Report, don’t repeat information you may see regarding school threats or other safety issues.

Will the district consider banning backpacks?

In addition to parent suggestions, several steps were taken within the days following the community meeting and will continue to in the weeks after, including:

Meeting with student leaders on the Governor Mifflin High School PROUD team

Class meetings with high school students

Administrative debrief on incident and reinforcement of district safety practices