Florida tragedy leads to board discussion on school safety

By on February 28, 2018

The Ephrata School District will continue to keep student safety its top priority, and has no current plans to change any security measures, Superintendent Brian Troop told the board of directors at Monday’s regular monthly meeting.

“We have an already established, comprehensive security plan and those commitments to safety are ongoing,” Troop said. “We’re keeping our eyes open and we’re talking to colleagues in other districts to search for solutions for the future.”

At the start of the meeting, Board President Timothy Stayer asked for a moment of silence to remember the families, students, and staff of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the site of a mass shooting Feb. 14 that took the lives of 14 students and three staff members.

“We know they are suffering through this horrific tragedy and our hearts are deeply sad and in pain because of this senseless violence,” Stayer said.

Stayer noted that central Pennsylvania isn’t immune to school violence, and cited the threats to Harrisburg and York schools that occurred last week and are ongoing. The anonymous threats of violence caused the schools to be closed until the danger could be fully evaluated.

“Every threat must be taken seriously,” Stayer said. “You wonder why students want to make threats or harm someone else, but whatever the reason, it is shocking and terrible. And that’s our reality for 2018.”

Part of the Ephrata district’s mission statement says that all students deserve a secure learning environment, Stayer said, and the district will do its best to continue to provide that safe environment.

“Our district is addressing student safety issues with great determination and focus,” Stayer said.

The tragedy in Florida is affecting the atmosphere of school districts across the country, Troop said, causing many to rethink their security policies.

“The action taken by one individual has really shaken our country,” Troop said. “Fear, confusion, and anger, and the need to act, to do something, are feelings across the country and Ephrata is no different.”

The district has a responsibility to provide that secure learning environment invoked earlier by Stayer, the superintendent said.

As part of that mission, two years ago the district decided to be proactive by professionally assessing students’ mental health with the assistance of an outside agency.

Every year, the entire freshmen class is offered the opportunity for a mental health screening performed by staff from Samaritan Counseling Services of Lancaster.

Initially, the counseling service reached out to Ephrata, and the district decided the screening could be beneficial.

Parents are notified before the testing that their freshmen students have the opportunity of a mental health evaluation and can opt out if they wish, Troop said.

Nearly all the freshmen students participate in the mental health assessment, which consists of trained counselors talking with each student for about 15 to 20 minutes.

Information from that conversation is given only to parents, not the district.

“We don’t know anything (from the assessment); all information is given to the parents, and if there’s anything they want to share with us, they can,” Troop said.

The Ephrata district is not the first school to offer students mental health evaluations, but they are one of only a handful of schools who do so in Lancaster County, Troop said.

A school psychologist is always available for the students in any grade, Troop added.

“In the weeks since the tragedy we’ve been seeing the reality of increased mental health needs,” Troop said.

Board member Tim Stauffer, Lancaster-Lebanon IU 13 representative, told the board the IU has planned a symposium on cyber security to protect children, called “Keeping Kids Safe.”

Media center renovation

In other business, the board approved contractor bids for the renovation and expanded construction of the high school media center.

Because of the changes in technology, much of the media center had become obsolete, with much of its equipment outdated and not being used.

The total contractor cost for the Ephrata High School Media Center Project will be $1,562,372.

“The whole project will be at or under $2 million and since that’s close to half of what we were expecting it to cost, it’s a bonus,” Troop said.

He credited competition among bidders with helping to hold down costs.

The bid for general construction work, including plumbing, went to East Coast Contracting, with a bid of $1,093,700.

Mechanical construction went to Shannon A. Smith Inc., for $214,000, and electrical construction was awarded to McCarty and Son Inc., for $254,672.

The existing media center and library had been filled to capacity with equipment that was no longer needed, and a number of shelves for reference materials were empty, reflecting how information is accessed today, Troop said.

“Since we went one-on-one with technology (every student has their own laptop), we don’t need the computer lab anymore,” Troop said.

The media center area will be reconfigured and a stairway to ease congestion will be added in the lobby, directly outside of the media center.

The renovated center will also have a tech support area, as well as a coffee bar to be run by students.

Students helped to design the media center, Troop said.

“We did a design challenge with the students,” Troop said. “They were given information and a floor plan and they collaborated on teams.

“Architects used the kids’ ideas, so we’re excited about this,” Troop said.

Work will begin in April, Troop said, and staff is in the process of cleaning out supplies from the area.

Construction is expected to be completed by the start of the 2018-19 school year.

In another matter, honors chemistry teacher Marion Brenner told the Board about the upcoming county high school science fair and introduced four of her students, who showed board members their projects and described their work.

Earlier this year, 71 projects were submitted by Ephrata High School Juniors for consideration to be entered into the science fair, and the field has since been narrowed to 25, Brenner said.

All 25 of Ephrata’s High School’s projects will be judged at the Science Fair on Wed., March 21 at the Spooky Nook Sports Complex in Manheim.

The fair will be open to the public that day from 4 to 6:30 p.m.

The four Juniors who explained their projects to the school board were Kayley Eshelman, with her project “A Study of Aquaponics versus Hydroponics; Aliyan Ramirez, with “A Comparison of 3D Printing;” Alex Acker, with “Limitations of Distance Visual Acuity Tests;” and Safitay Sindhar, with “Expressive Profile Evaluation of FAK (a blood protein) in Cancer, versus Healthy Samples.”

At the science fair, prizes will be given in different categories, including a number of financial awards.

The Juniors started planning their projects last August, Brenner said.

Life Skills teacher Kirstin Loperena gave a presentation of the Special Education-Life Skills Program which supports children in grades nine through 12, ages 14 to 21.

The program emphasizes social and academic skills and prepares the students for daily living by teaching job skills, she said.

The newest project is a venture into the coffee business, Loperena said, with students making and delivering coffee to teachers one day a week.

“They enjoy it and they use critical thinking skills while it increases their interactions with others,” Loperena said.

The goal of the program is to help the students transition into the community after graduation.

“This is a program that serves some of our most vulnerable learners,” said High School Principal Scott Galen.

In another matter, engineering and computer science teacher Rod Myers introduced members of the high school’s Robotics Team to the board.

The students received resolutions from the board for their “outstanding accomplishments” for qualifying for the 2018 Pennsylvania State Robotics Tournament.

Five students also received board resolutions for qualifying for the 2018 Pennsylvania Indoor Track and Field Championship Meet. They are Andrew Foster, Tanyon Loose, Alex Morales, Jenna Raezer, and Tyler Shue, who holds a school record-breaking time in running.

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