'Be vigilant at all times': School districts review security plans after Westmont Hilltop arrests

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Dec. 18—JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — Following the arrests of two teenagers who authorities allege were planning a shooting at Westmont Hilltop Junior-Senior High School, school district officials around the area have taken the opportunity to examine their own safety plans.

That was before a national threat spread on the app TikTok prompted additional security measures on Friday.

"With regards to recent happenings, we have been reviewing our safety protocols with the staff and local police departments," Ferndale Area Superintendent Jeffrey Boyer said.

Administrators held a meeting with Ferndale and West Hills police after the Nov. 30 school shooting in Oxford Township, Michigan.

"The meeting went very well, and it was nice to collaborate with both departments," Boyer said. "Both departments plan to have a greater presence in both our buildings by conducting daily walk-throughs, which has already started."

Ferndale previously had a school resource officer, or SRO for short, but the position remains open because the person who served in the role resigned. Since then, there has been a lack of applicants, Boyer said.

Looking ahead, the district will conduct more drills with the "multi-jurisdictional agencies and organizations in Cambria County," he said.

Travis Robison, Ferndale High School principal, has worked with a group of students to train them in protocols related to the A.L.I.C.E. (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate) safety program.

'Concern and alertness'

Ferndale isn't alone.

Richland schools leaders have reviewed elements of their district's security plan. Forest Hills will hold random drills in the upcoming weeks in collaboration with local law enforcement officers. Officials at Conemaugh Valley have reexamined their procedures, and the Windber Area SRO was more involved in a recent meeting with the students in that district.

"We integrated our SRO into those discussions with our students to bring safety to the forefront of their minds," Windber Director of Education Glenn Gaye said.

The student assemblies were planned already, but when authorities announced that Logan J. Pringle and Westmont Hilltop student Preston R. Hinebaugh were allegedly in the planning stages of a shooting, the direction of the gatherings was adjusted.

For those at Conemaugh Township Area, where Pringle is a student, there's a "heightened degree of concern and alertness."

"Safety is always a topic of discussion in some fashion and gets reevaluated based on any occurrence — whether it be a local or national level," Conemaugh Township Area High School Principal James Foster said. "Situations, as such, cause us to revisit our operations, procedures and policies regularly."

Foster added that, since the local scare, staff have been instructed to discuss specific safety topics and procedures with students and reminded them about the Safe2Say tip line and the district's "Tribeline" for reporting concerning situations.

"Both means provide immediate contact with adults affiliated with the school to assist with any situation," Foster said.

Conemaugh Township also partnered with an independent outside agency that specializes in threat assessments prior to the beginning of the school year, he said.

'Heightened awareness'

Conemaugh Valley works with Gittings Protective Security Inc. for safety assessments, as well as daily and event coverage.

"They've come in and done a full evaluation of our buildings," Superintendent Shane Hazenstab said.

In light of the Westmont incident, he and the administrative team met this past week to discuss security procedures.

"Safety for us always stays at the forefront," Hazenstab said. "We're constantly looking at ways to adjust things and make any changes we need to."

He described what happened at Westmont Hilltop as a scary event and a conversation-starter.

"They cause you to take a real close look at what you're doing and how you're doing it," Hazenstab said.

Amy Arcurio, Greater Johnstown superintendent, noted the free risk and vulnerability assessment from the Pennsylvania State Police that her district has utilized in the past few years.

Michael Dadey, high school principal and district security director, has worked with state police to examine each building, which allows the GJSD safety committee to address any documented issues.

"I think any time there is a school safety situation, no matter where, within our community or across the country, it does bring a heightened awareness for all of us," Arcurio said.

Dadey agreed.

"We are always on a state of awareness on what's occurring in our community — outside our community," he said.

Both also praised the district's partnerships with the school resource officers and Johnstown Police Department. Greater Johnstown has three SROs in the district and 12 security guards.

North Star officials said they review their security plan multiple times every year.

Louis Lepley, superintendent, said that, although no additional precautions were taken this week, "we try to do our due diligence every day in regards to safety and information."

There's a school police officer employed by the district and seven Act 235 trained personnel throughout the buildings. Those individuals are trained to carry weapons.

Richland School District does an annual safety examination process, Superintendent Arnold Nadonley said, but after the events at Westmont, officials there went over those procedures again and students were reminded of best safety practices.

Nadonley acknowledged the difficult time Westmont families, staff and administrators are going through and spoke of the benefit the school resource officer has been to his district.

Richland performs regular security upgrades as well, such as the recent installation of a new camera system that features facial recognition software.

"You have to be vigilant at all times," Nadonley said.

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