Allegheny Valley mulls arming guards it hired for elementary schools
Unarmed guards have been hired to provide security at Allegheny Valley School District elementary schools, but that may change in the coming weeks.
The school board hired the unarmed guards from St. Moritz Security Services Inc. for Colfax Upper Elementary in Springdale and Acmetonia Elementary School in Harmar.
But board members have mixed feelings about having officers who are not carrying weapons providing security to the two schools, which do not have dedicated officers. Instead, the district’s lone police officer, Thomas Downing, patrols those schools along with Springdale Junior/Senior High School.
“If a person comes in to shoot at staff and students, I’d sure as hell hope we’d have someone shooting back at him,” board member Larry Pollick said.
Pollick joined Stephen Puskar in voting against the move. He said he felt the board went “halfway” by hiring the unarmed guards. Puskar said his vote was from more of a “philosophical” perspective, saying he is not sure about whether to have security guards.
Asked by board member Donald Rocco what his feeling is about whether guards in the schools should be armed, Superintendent Pat Graczyk replied, “My comfort level is guns make me nervous in general but, personally, for security purposes, I would prefer to have someone with a weapon.”
Other board members also seemed to share that sentiment, questioning Joseph M. Mitchell, St. Moritz’s director of business development, about whether St. Moritz can provide armed security officers.
“We try to avoid the armed guards in the schools,” Mitchell said. “If you want armed guards, we can get them, but that’s a whole other process.”
He said the unarmed security guards operate more like local police officers who are school resource officers, developing a rapport with staff and students in order to head off potential problems. Also, they make sure that entry points to the buildings are secure and that there are not people in the building or on school property who don’t have a legitimate reason to be there.
“All our guys are trained in how to handle each situation,” Mitchell said.
The “other process” Mitchell referred to relates to the new law governing school security officers that was signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf in June. He said St. Moritz officials still are not sure of what, if any, new requirements the law imposes in regard to armed security officers. For that reason, he said St. Moritz could not provide armed officers to the district right now even if the board wants them.
“It depends on the new rules,” Mitchell said. “If it’s not that big of a change from what we have now, then we have armed guards we can use.”
He said that if the new requirements are a major change, it could be at least three or four weeks before St. Moritz could supply armed officers.
Given that armed guards are not available now, the board voted to approve the agreement with St. Moritz. Under that agreement, the district will employ St. Moritz guards at a rate of $18 an hour and $27 an hour for working on holidays.
Graczyk said the agreement is not final solution to security at the elementary schools and that the board can revisit the issue.
Board President Antonio Pollino said all options remain on the table, including the hiring of additional school police officers.
Tom Yerace is a freelance writer.