Abington Heights Superintendent addresses safety concerns at board meeting

By Robert Tomkavage - rtomkavage@timesleader.com
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CLARKS SUMMIT — The topic of school safety dominated the conversation during an Abington Heights School Board meeting Feb. 21, the day after concerns arose regarding potential threats in the district.

“During the afternoon on Feb. 20, word was spreading in the high school that a particular student was intending to come to school to do harm to other students the next day,” Abington Heights Superintendent Michael Mahon said. “Anytime we hear that, it’s a major concern and it immediately goes to the top of the agenda. High school administration was able to investigate and found that the student in question was not in school, was not in the area and was not intending to be around any time soon. It was turned over to law enforcement and there was absolutely, positively no credibility or evidence to the threats.”

Several parents, including Tara McHale who has three students in the district, expressed their concerns regarding the lack of information on the specifics of the potential threats.

The district sent out a tweet on its Twitter account and a Remind notification Feb. 20, that said the following: “Rumors of threats at AHSD are circulating on social media. Administration and law enforcement are aware of the threats and have investigated them. The threats are not credible.”

“The tweet and Remind notice that went out, while very well-intentioned, only served to fuel the fire,” McHale said. “It was vague and a little bit condescending, in light of recent events. It reached a very wide audience and created mass hysteria. It’s absolutely possible to be compliant with the Family Educational Right and Privacy Act (FERPA) Act and still be forthcoming with the public.”

According to Mahon, 26 percent of students in the district did not attend school the next day.

“Many people were afraid to send their kids to school,” he said.

Mahon said a district-wide system of responses for crisis situations was developed last year and more steps are being taken to ensure the safety of students.

“In every building, we have one drill per month,” Mahon said. “Largely, they have been fire drills, but we’re also going to begin other drills, such as lockdowns. It looks reactionary, but this was part of a long-term plan to improve the safety of how we respond.”

Abington Heights Education Association President Tim Moher is concerned with a policy adopted by the school board that allows members of the community to use outdoor facilities at the high school during the day.

“(They) are using our fields and track without us having any idea of who they are or whether they pose a potential threat to our students,” Moher said. “Our physical education classes use that same area when weather allows which leads to the intermingling of students and community members. I’m urging the board to re-evaluate that decision. “

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By Robert Tomkavage

rtomkavage@timesleader.com