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Top story for 2007: Tyrone middle/high schools go on lockdown; implement new security measures

(Editor’s note: Today continues The Daily Herald’s annual series of top local stories for the year.)
The Tyrone Area Middle and High School first went on lockdown November 14, 2007 due to rumored threats. The following day, Superintendent Dr. William Miller issued a statement that the TASD would close early for Thanksgiving break due to continued rumors of a possible shooting at the school.
Although Miller stated the threats were only rumors and 20 students were searched without any location of a weapon, he felt that it was necessary for the school district to take precaution to address the situation and the safety of the students. Avoiding a possible chaotic atmosphere was deemed necessary.
During the extended Thanksgiving break, the school district’s administration decided to install metal detectors at the middle and high school. TASD borrowed three stand-alone metal detectors and three hand-held metal detectors from Altoona Area School District, along with purchasing eight hand-held metal detectors of its own. The district is presently looking into purchasing its own four stand-alone metal detectors.
When the students arrived back at school Tuesday, November 27, there were only three entrances to enter the school and all three entrances had stand-alone metal detectors for the students to pass through, along with bag searches and the hand-held metal detector scanning conducted by staff, school police and state police. No students were found to possess any weapons or contraband during the searches.
Long lines of students waiting to enter the schools existed the first week of the metal detector use in the middle and high school, but Miller noted that the scanning process went smoothly with very few minutes of instructional time lost during the school day.
Miller stated in a past Herald article that the “administration has met with student groups for their input and suggestions” and “the students unanimously agreed that, given the circumstances, the metal detectors were appropriate.”
Many of the rumored threats were said to be received through cell phone text messages, which raised concern about the school district’s cell phone policy and if anything needed to be revamped in the policy.
The current policy states that cell phones should be turned off during instructional and class time, during passing times between classes, and at any other time where use of the device would cause a disruption of school activities. All cell phones that can take photographs or record audio or video should not be used for such purposes while on district property or while a student is engaged in school sponsored activities, unless expressly authorized in advance by the building principal or designee.
The administration recommended enforcing that existing board policy of cell phones rather than requiring them to be kept in lockers during the school day, or banned from the school premises altogether.
Miller added, “We feel comfortable enforcing this policy. It has not been enforced enough. Before changing policies and taking extreme measures, which we feel are not necessary, we will continue to keep enforcing these policies and look for improvements. If we don’t make this commitment, we’re not doing enough to protect our students.”
Along with the metal detector implementation and sticking with the current cell phone policy by enforcing it and having staff monitor and correct any improper behavior that may occur in restrooms and hallways between classes and before and after school, the district’s Technology Coordinator Glen Drager was in the process of establishing list servers for families who decide to receive information through their emails.
The school, with the help of private consultant Colleen Heim, state police and other emergency personnel, have been reviewing and revising, as needed, the Emergency Procedures Guide Flip Charts that were originally approved in 2001.
Miller also stated that parents will no longer be allowed to pick up their kids when a lockdown occurs, saying “no one will leave or enter the schools and the lockdown will be throughout the district – from elementary to the high school.”
“We will continue to inform parents of lockdowns after they occur,” said Miller. “Communication will be sent via the district’s website.”
Presently, the school district has now decided that district personnel will be conducting random searches at entrances to the schools and other check points throughout the schools, instead of the method of searching all the students.