Allentown School District invites community input at school safety forum | #schoolsaftey

  • Allentown School District held a safety forum at Allen High School
  • The district plans to move forward on a vote to install weapons detectors
  • Each unit will cost about $17,000

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — The Allentown School District held a community safety forum Tuesday to hear from parents, students and community members about security concerns at the city’s schools following a recent arrest of a student found with a loaded gun at Allen High School. Mayor Matt Tuerk and Police Chief Charles Roca also attended part of the event.
School officials say they have the authority to search students if they have a reasonable suspicion a student has prohibited contraband or their belongings contain material that would pose a threat to others or violate the law.

The board plans to vote on Thursday on whether to approve a pilot program to install 30-35 metal detectors, also called OpenGate weapons detectors, at the three high schools, Dieruff, Building 21 and Allen at a total cost of $500,000-595,000.

Allentown Superintendent Carol Birks said the money will come from Title IV funding, which was included in the budget passed in June. She said new equipment will mean the district will need additional security personnel.

“We have to look at our current structure and see what additional resources that we need,” she said. “Because as we know, we may have to go back to the board and say we need to hire more.”

The metal detectors will go off when Chromebooks pass through, so they need to be passed around the detectors, said Brandon Pasquale, ASD Director of Safety and Security.

The district presented data to attendees to show more security measures are needed and that students, parents and staff supported adding them. Numbers compiled from 2022-2023 incident reports said 547 weapons were found on students during the 2022-23 school year at eight elementary schools, four middle schools and three high schools. The PowerPoint slide said there were 94 incidents at Trexler Middle School, 97 at Dieruff and 131 at Allen. It did not specify what the weapons were.

Another PowerPoint slide said in the past school year two guns and 73 knives were found, without saying at which school they were found. However, a June 2023 school board agenda item that was pulled from the agenda and not acted upon presented the metal detectors currently under consideration and said two guns had been found at Dieruff and one was found at Allen.

Tiffany Polek, executive director of youth, family and community engagement, said they received 7,840 responses to their safety survey on the metal detectors and found most students, parents and staff support adding them.

Allen High School parent and former candidate for Lehigh County Commissioner Milagros Canales said she is opposed to the metal detectors. She said she wants to see school staff be more understanding of students like her child who have to walk to school from neighborhoods like Center City.

“When the kids have to get up in the morning, they shouldn’t have to worry about there’s SWAT, there’s police, there’s a body. All of that takes into account their mentality when they have to walk to school because they walk,” she said. “They don’t get bused in, they don’t get the cushion to have somebody drive them to the school, so they can at least get a few minutes of not thinking about something. And then it gets to the school and you’ve got a teacher saying ‘You’re late,’ or ‘Where’s your books?’ And they’re like, ‘Can I get a minute?’ It’s not like there’s a coffee bar where they can stop and think and get a few minutes to regroup. When we start the day, they don’t get that luxury.”

Polek said students also said in focus groups that they also wanted bullying prevention programs, more emotional support resources and stronger relationships between staff and students. They also want more clubs and activities and events.

“But if there are students who truly do feel unsafe, I do think it would be beneficial.”

Allen Student Kaley Martin

Allen junior Kaley Martin said she feels pretty safe at school. She said the worst problems are the kids who vape in the bathrooms. Martin says she has mixed feelings about installing metal detectors.

“I mean, I don’t think it’s that necessary and I think it’ll slow like getting kids inside,” she said. “But if there are students who truly do feel unsafe, I do think it would be beneficial.”

School officials also showed high numbers of students found in possession of a controlled substance at some of the district’s schools, including 69 incidents at Dieruff, 74 at Harrison Morton Middle School and 115 at Allen High School.

The district also showed many schools are dealing with vaping instances, including elementary schools. Sheridan Elementary School had 64 incidents over the past school year, while Dieruff had 367. The Halo Smart vape detection systems were installed in August, but Birks said they haven’t turned them on yet until they educate parents and students more on how they work and train staff.

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