Safety Message 2/14/24

FROM THE SUPERINTENDENT: The message below was shared with our families on 2/14/24) 

Dear Cumberland Valley families:

By unfortunate coincidence, I am writing to you on the 6th anniversary of the school shooting that took place at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.  I have spent more than 25 years as a public school educator, coach, and administrator, and we continue to feel deeply the loss of staff and students in acts of violence at school. 

Last week, we in the Cumberland Valley School community were all forced to acknowledge that despite our best efforts and intentions, administrators discovered a loaded gun in the possession of one of our Eagle View Middle School students.  Since that time, district and building administrators and the Cumberland Valley Police Department have worked with the Silver Spring Township Police Department as well as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms to fully investigate the incident so that we might better understand how it happened and if we should alter our response plans in the event that this ever happens again.

While the specific incident took place at Eagle View, we know that this is an event that impacts the entire CV community.  So I am writing this evening to share with all of you what we can share at this time and to review our current policies, practices, and actions related to school safety and security. 

The safety of our students, staff, and visitors remains our top priority each day.  And we believe this incident illustrates how a number of investments made by the district enabled us to discover the gun and respond quickly and appropriately. 

Specific to this incident, through the investigation of an unrelated discipline issue, Eagle View administrators discovered the gun.  The student had not made a threat nor had the student displayed the gun.  I would like to highlight three factors.  First, the district has invested time, effort, and resources into encouraging students that if they see something suspicious, they should tell someone.  That happened.  Second, we have invested time, effort, and resources into training our school administrators how to legally, safely, and effectively interview and search students when there is a reasonable suspicion they have something they should not have in school.  I would like to especially highlight the efforts of the Eagle View administrative team for their work in this area, that they were not complacent, nor did they take shortcuts.  Finally, the district has invested substantial resources into the creation, implementation, and development of a Department of Public Safety, which includes the incorporation of the Cumberland Valley Police Department, a fully recognized agency in Cumberland County.  CV security and CVPD responded in less than two minutes and were able both to secure the area and ensure that the investigation would be handled legally and appropriately.  Further, the department’s work in building relationships with our local agency partners ensured a quick response and a high level of cooperation and teamwork with the Silver Spring Township detectives. 

Cumberland Valley School Board policy 218.1 (Weapons) and the Pennsylvania School Code require a MINIMUM one-year expulsion of students who possess weapons or weapon look-alikes on campus.  I can assure you that we will pursue the highest form of consequence we can administer once the investigation of the case is concluded and we have a reasonable understanding of the complete picture of what happened. 

One specific incident that has been asked of us is about the timing of notification last week.  We do understand how it might seem like we delayed in sharing information.  It is important to highlight several important factors which contributed significantly to the timing of the announcement.  First, the environment was immediately secured as both the weapon and the student were in the custody of the police.  Second, an active investigation began immediately, and there were a number of questions we were working through with police.  Third, we needed some time to ensure that the communication was as accurate and as complete as we could make so as not to exacerbate the situation or compromise the investigation that was taking place.  Especially in combination with the second point, these things require time in the moment and on the ground.  From the moment of discovery through initial investigation to district notification, total time was approximately 90 minutes.  

As we move forward, we are faced with an important question – Can we be doing even more than we are currently doing?  On Monday, February 12, district administration met with the school board to review and discuss our current protocols and resource allocation and to evaluate what we could have done or be doing differently.  In that conversation, we reviewed and considered a number of options, including many that have been suggested and/or requested by members of the community.

At this time, district administration will partner with the school board to review current policy and practice around student searches as well as the use of backpacks and lockers.  Over the coming days, we will consider possible changes to practice in these areas and how they might minimize further the risk of a student possessing a weapon on campus. 

In addition, the Department of Public Safety is currently in the process of acquiring a police dog specially trained in weapons detection.  This process was already in motion prior to this incident, but we are hoping to accelerate the acquisition and subsequent training. 

Often in incidents such as this, districts will ask for and receive an increased presence from local law enforcement.  Because we already have uniformed and armed officers stationed across the district with CVPD vehicles, we currently have high visibility and presence and possess the ability to respond quickly to any of the 14 buildings on CV campuses. 

The question of metal detectors was also reviewed and considered.  The implementation of these devices would require both a significant philosophical change around the type of environment we want for our schools as well as a significant investment of both financial and human resources.  Initial estimates on the cost of metal detectors for the secondary buildings alone would measure between $2-3 million every four years.  That does not include the cost related to staffing and managing the entrance of students and visitors.  We also evaluated a number of studies related to the effectiveness of metal detectors and search processes, including those conducted by federal agencies such as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and found that the failure rates on detecting guns specifically was higher than the public generally appreciates.   Because of these factors, district administration and the school board are not currently considering metal detectors as a response or strategy.

If a security incident such as last week would take place, the district has protocols in place for emergency operations that provide an organized, coordinated, and common-sense approach to working through emergencies we may encounter. Staff members across the district are familiar with these procedures.  Additionally, students and staff participate regularly in a variety of emergency drills, which provide participants with an understanding of responses to various crisis situations. Administrators are trained in crisis management, and review with staff regularly emergency operations protocols.

We also have many everyday safety and security protocol measures in place, including but not limited to, the following:

  • All building doors are locked during school hours AND checked and logged by security personnel regularly throughout the school day. Visitors must enter at a central location at each building before being granted access to the hallways. In many cases, entrances have been reconfigured over the last several years to enhance safety.

  • We require staff to always wear an identification badge. Upon visitors entering the building at a centralized location, they must show identification and receive a time-sensitive visitor badge that must be worn while on school grounds.

  • Staff are vigilant in monitoring guests as they walk the halls of our buildings; staff are instructed that, in the event they observe someone without a district-authorized identification, they are to question the individual’s presence and escort them back to the office.

  • School Gate Guardian is installed in all CV schools. This software is a visitor registration system that enhances school security by retrieving data from a visitor’s state-issued ID. The information is then compared with information from several state and law enforcement databases, including the registered sex offender database. It also includes a locally stored database created by the district that could include parent or guardian custody issues, restraining orders, or visitors that have been deemed a threat to students and staff. 

Please visit our Safety and Security webpage to learn about additional measures we have in place throughout the district.

As always, we strongly encourage anyone with information relating to the safety of our students or schools to report these concerns immediately through the Safe2Say Something program, directly to a school district official, or to our colleagues in local and state law enforcement.

We know that our children are the most important treasure in our community. We carefully guard their safety, and we will continue to work with agency professionals to update our safety and security practices. We also appreciate your continued cooperation to alert us to any concerns that arise. As a community, we value your assistance in helping us do everything we can to keep our schools safe. We are thankful for your continued engagement with us and for your continued trust and support.

With sincere appreciation,

Mark A. Blanchard, Ed.D.

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