When classes at Wallenpaupack resume on September 3, students will meet the new security force.
On August 19, the School Board met the four School Resource Officers (SRO) who have been hired and trained to both strengthen protection and to serve the students in a variety of ways.
Wallenpaupack Area School Board authorized the formation of the new department last spring in the wake of the mass shootings at the elementary school in Newtown, CT, last December. Like with other school districts nationwide, the tragedy led to an review of the established emergency plan at Wallenpaupack. In the immediate aftermath of the Newtown incident, parents approached Wallenpaupack Administration and asked for armed officers.
John Clader, a 25 year veteran with the Pennsylvania State Police and most recently the Commander at the Blooming Grove barracks, is the new Director of Security at Wallenpaupack. He introduced the other officers, and stated their commitment to keep school safer and to work with the Student Body.
Each officer will have primary responsibility for different school buildings, although they will rotate in order to become familiar with each area of the District. Clader's primary area is the High School.
Bradley Beach, who served 22 years with the PA State Police, will cover the South Elementary School in Newfoundland.
Aaron Bertholf continues as a part time police officer with Hawley Borough. He has 13 years of police experience and has been actively involved with programs at Wallenpaupack such as the DARE program and Emergency Responder Club. He will have patrol of the North Primary School.
Eric Halas comes to Wallenpaupack with 22 years experience with the PA State Police. He will serve at the Middle and North Intermediate Schools, which share the same building.
Each officer was in uniform, which includes khaki -colored pants and a shirt with the school colors of purple and white. They each have a badge and equipment belts.
A police vehicle has been purchaed and is on order.
Superintendent Michael Silsby said that their selection of these "outstanding" officers is very fortunate. Clader has been working at the District through the summer to organize the SRO program.
The importance of enhancing security was underscored this month, he said, with the murders that took place at a Ross Township Supervisors' meeting in Monroe County. Newtown, he said, has unfortunately faded in memory.
In light of the shootings, he said, the District sought to be proactive. Hiring officers was not because there was a problem at Wallenpaupack, although some parents asked that. The District wanted to be able to handle any crisis in a responsible and safe manner. He said that hopefully they will never know what they were able to prevent, but "God forbid," should there ever be a crisis, they will be in a better position to react.
Page 2 of 2 - There could be a response time of 10 to15 minutes for outside police authorities, should an event ever occur. Silsby said a lot could happen while waiting.
In addition to security, the officers will be embedded in the school culture, Silsby explained. They have been hired to build relationships with the students, staff and the community. Kids, he said, should be able to feel confident with the officers and provide needed information. He said nine out of 10 tips come from the students. Most of the students, he added, want a safe and drug-free school.
They will also be assigned to after-school events such as concerts and games. They will supplement the security detail the District has been using at the games, and will work with the school traffic officers.
SROs will be able to issue non-traffic citations for summary offenses, and to hold a student in custody for more serious offenses while waiting for assistance of State Police. Clader said that 75 percent of the cases normally experienced at school, the SROs will handle.
Board member Robert Schwartz suggested having the officers make a community presentation to explain what they do.
Another board member, John Kiesendahl, said that the program should be a "real positive." He said it was unsettling at first to see "four men with guns."
Board member John Drake commented that they it to said that they didn't need armed officers because of our students. Instead, they need them FOR their students.