In another sign of its increased concerns over the spike in youth violence in the city and nation, the Erie School District is set to install metal detectors at its 10 elementary schools after putting the devices at all its high schools and middle schools 10 months ago.
The district put the metal detectors in the middle and high schools in response to the shooting at Erie High on April 5.
Erie schools Superintendent Brian Polito said he is asking for the addition of detectors to the elementary schools in response to the continued problems with violence among juveniles in Erie and nationwide. He cited the shooting of a teacher by a 6-year-old student at a school in Newport News, Virginia, on Jan. 6.
"We are seeing some of the gun violence in the community trickle down to the elementary school level," Polito said.
Polito made the comments as he presented the proposal about the metal detectors to the Erie School Board at its nonvoting study session on Wednesday evening at the district's administration building at West 21st and Sassafras streets.
All of the School Board members at the meeting backed the proposal. Board President Daria Devlin said the board will vote on the measure at its regular monthly meeting on Feb. 8 at East Middle School.
Polito said the district wants to buy a total of 40 metal detectors for the 10 middle schools, for four at each school. The 40 would cost $637,000, according to district figures.
Newport News case:A 6-year-old shot his teacher in Virginia. School administrators 'could not be bothered' to heed warnings that day, lawyer says.
Polito said the district would adjust the sensitivity of the detectors so they would emit a beep only if they alert on large metal objects, so that phones and other smaller items would not trigger the devices and create long lines. District staff would monitor the detectors.
The detectors would "only pick up guns and large items," Polito said.
He said the district will provide information to families about the metal detectors in elementary schools once the board takes its vote.
Erie district would be first in area with detectors in elementary schools
Polito said he believes the Erie School District would be the first in the area to install metal detectors in its elementary schools. But he and the school directors said the detectors are necessary given the surge in youth violence in Erie and elsewhere.
"There is nothing wrong with being first," School Director Sumner Nichols said. "Safety first."
School Director Lori Pickens said she supports the measure, but added that she was concerned on how the presence of metal detectors would affect the district's youngest students.
Pickens also said she did not want the district to hold off on the metal detectors and deal with another tragedy. She referred to the School Board waiting to approve metal detectors at Erie High until after the shooting happened.
"I'd hate to see what would happen if we waited," Pickens said of the detectors in the elementary schools. "I don't want us to be reactive."
School Director Rosemary Sheridan said she appreciated Pickens' concerns about the young students, but she said "now in society, kids of all ages have gone through metal detectors. It is common."
Polito said the Erie School District's younger students are getting caught up in street violence related to gangs. In October, when the district participated in a "call-in" session for troubled youth prone to violence, two of the students on the 59-student call-in list were in elementary school. Polito mentioned the call-in to the board on Wednesday night.
District effort:Using Erie High as 'call-in' site, Unified Erie focuses anti-violence effort on juveniles
Assistant Superintendent Neal Brokman, who presented the board with details about the metal detectors, said addressing gang violence is a priority.
"Part of this is a reaction to unfortunately what happened in Virginia, as well as what we are seeing in the community with our youth and the younger youth being involved in gang violence," Brokman said in an interview.
Erie teachers' union president supports proposal
The 10,100-student Erie School District enrolls about 5,000 elementary school students. Its high school enrollment is about 3,025 and its middle school enrollment is about 2,175, according to district records.
The Erie School District's high school students attend in-person classes at Erie High, Northwest Pennsylvania Collegiate Academy and the Patrick J. DiPaolo Student Success Center at Emerson-Gridley, which houses alternative education programs. The district has three middle schools: East, Wilson and Strong Vincent. The DiPaolo center was the only district school that already had metal detectors before the district installed the devices at the other schools in April.
The head of the Erie Education Association teachers' union said she supports the proposal to put metal detectors in the elementary schools. In April, the 840-member EEA threatened to boycott in-person classes at Erie High until the district administration installed metal detectors at that school. District records showed that Polito had advocated for metal detectors at Erie High in the months before the shooting, though the Erie School Board had yet to vote.
"The Erie Education Association has been advocating for measures such as this and we're glad to see the district implementing another layer of security to keep our students and staff safer," Mary Theuerkauf, president of the 840-student EEA, said in a statement to the Erie Times-News. "Elementary safety is as important as mid-level and high school.
"We are committed to continuing to engage with the School Board and administration to improve student behavior in our classrooms after the students pass through the schoolhouse door. To that end, we would like to see crisis plans in place and trainings delivered for every school in the district."
Theuerkauf also addressed concerns about students who are disruptive. An Erie Times-News investigation in December found that the defendant in the Erie High shooting, Jim'Mare Crosby, who was 14 and a freshman at the time, had an extensive disciplinary record but that the district, following state and federal law, could not expel him because he was in special education. Crosby is being prosecuted as an adult in the case, in which a 16-year-old 10th-grader was shot and injured in a hallway.
Avoiding expulsion:Student charged in Erie High shooting had long disciplinary record. Why was he still in school?
"Because it's important to define issues in order to confront them, we are seeking district data that shows that violent offenses towards other students and staff are being addressed," Theuerkauf said. "Many of our students are enrolled in alternative education programs in lieu of expulsion and will return to their home schools. We need to see transition plans developed to assist those students and utilized by all staff who will be working to help the student succeed."
Erie School District also to start gun safety program
Also at Wednesday night's meeting, the Erie School Board consented to Polito's plan for students to learn about gun safety. He said students and families need to understand the importance of gun safety in light of two other gun-related tragedies involving Erie School District students.
Dazmiere Cherry, 16, died at a Pittsburgh hospital on July 21, five days after he was shot in the head while inside a Wayne Street residence with others. Authorities said he was shot with a "ghost gun," a weapon that can be purchased online and assembled at home. The 13-year-old boy who handled the gun was sentenced in juvenile court for involuntary manslaughter.
Manslaughter case:Police: 13-year-old handling 'ghost gun' when 16-year-old fatally shot in Erie in July
On Jan. 23, a 14-year-old boy was taken to UPMC Hamot for treatment of a gunshot wound to the right upper thigh following a shooting that was reported that evening in the 1200 block of West 20th Street. A small group of teenagers were at the residence and were filming a music video when a gun they were using in the video discharged, firing a bullet that struck the 14-year-old, police said.
Another 14-year-old has been charged with having the gun when it fired. He was charged as a juvenile.
More teen violence:14-yearold shot in music video mishap
The Erie School District program will emphasize safe gun storage, Polito said. With the School Board's approval in hand, the district administration will now start developing a program.
Opinion:I was against gun safety classes in schools. Newport News, Va., shooting changed my mind.
"It is sad, but it is necessary," said Devlin, the School Board president.
Contact Ed Palattella at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ETNpalattella.
This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: Metal detectors are headed for all Erie district's elementary schools
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