Eastern York School District officials update parents, guardians on recent incidents
YORK COUNTY, Pa. – Eastern York School District Superintendent, Dr. Darla Pianowski and Eastern York High School Principal Dr. Timothy W. Mitzel released separate letters to families regarding the district’s response to a rash of written bomb threats and an authorized male who entered the high school last week. The letters also outlined steps the district is taking going forward to ensure the safety of students and staffs in the district schools.
Dear Parents, Students and Staff:
Our school district is responding to the recent non-credible bomb threats that occurred at the middle school and high school by working to ensure two things: (1) that our schools are ready for confident activation of our comprehensive multi-hazard plans; and (2) that our school system resources are available to help with the mental health needs of children and adults during any time of crisis. It is our practice to assess the effectiveness of our district level and building level safety plans so that we may assist principals and school staff in preparing for a variety of emergency response situations.
Recognizing the need for accurate information about student safety, I am sharing with you details about false bomb threats that were written by five separate students at Eastern York Middle School and Eastern York High School during the last two weeks. Four of the students were quickly identified and suspended from school pending a disciplinary hearing. The administration and police continue investigating the one unresolved false bomb threat and feel confident the student will be identified and held accountable in the near future. There are severe penalties imposed by the school district for issuing false bomb threats.
All of the written false bomb threats did not appear credible to the administration and police. However, with threats and violence occurring across our nation, the administration and police have treated each one as a credible threat and will continue to act accordingly to protect our students and staff.
Following the discovery of each of the five false threats, the students and staff evacuated the building and relocated to various locations where they were supported and cared for by their teachers. After students and staff have been evacuated and accounted for, the building is searched by trained officers – and sometimes a K9 team – in order to make sure the building is safe for students and staff to return and resume their learning.
A separate incident occurred at the high school during the same time frame where an individual posed as a student and gained access to the school as students arrived in the morning. Since that incident occurred, additional staff has been assigned to monitor student arrival and safety procedures have been reviewed with staff. The district has provided the evidence related to that situation to police. The police are working with other law enforcement agencies to apprehend the suspect. If interested, check Dr. Mitzel’s letter on the district website for more details regarding this specific incident.
When students are accused of violating a policy and/or committing a crime, school district administrators conduct a thorough investigation and cooperate fully with the local police. They also make sure students are held responsible and accountable while following district policies and several state and federal laws involving disciplining students. During the investigation process, students are initially suspended by the principal for three days, after which they are provided due process, which includes an informal hearing with parents. Following an informal hearing, the principal may suspend a student for an additional seven days. During the suspension students, if warranted, are referred to the superintendent and/or board of school directors for a formal hearing. During a formal hearing additional discipline is imposed by the superintendent and/or board of school directors. Students must be provided with the opportunity to go through this process for an expulsion to occur. When it is communicated that students are suspended as a result of committing a disciplinary infraction, it does not mean that suspension will be the only consequence.
The district cooperates fully with the police and submits all evidence collected during our investigation. Though we cooperate as a team, all criminal investigations are separate from the school district’s investigation and criminal charges are determined and filed by the police. In addition, the district compiles costs associated with any incidents, such as the cost of serving students lunch in a remote location, for the purpose of holding students responsible for restitution.
It is the district’s goal to provide timely information to parents during any emergency incident that occurs. We provide voice messaging through Skylert, post information to our district website, and update the information as frequently as possible to keep parents informed. While we are making sure that students are safely moved to a different location, we are simultaneously working to ensure medication is provided to students who take it, providing meals to students, generating and providing accurate and updated information to parents/students (with translations) and media, as well as creating a process for parent/child reunification, if needed. Depending upon the timing of the incident, the district may need to make last minute decisions concerning transportation and dismissal. Parents can help us by following the instructions provided by the district so we can ensure we have the appropriate personnel in place in order to provide an efficient and orderly process for students to be safely released to parents.
Each of the incidents at the middle school caused a major disruption to the education for the students. We believe it’s important to provide opportunities for our students to speak with their teachers and each other about events that have had an impact on their lives. Following the incidents, the middle school held an assembly for the students and information was shared by Chief Deputy Prosecutor, David Maisch; Lower Windsor Township Police Chief, Timothy Caldwell; and Middle School Principal, Dr. Keith Shoemaker. In addition, on Monday middle school students participated in an instructional activity in response to an article published by the York Daily Record entitled, The Real Cost of a Bomb Threat. Beginning next week, a software system for tracking activity in the school’s hallway will be fully implemented.
Yesterday, Dr. Timothy Mitzel, High School Principal, addressed the students and staff asking for their help and support in getting the message out that our pursuit of educational excellence should not be limited by the actions of a few. Students completed an activity following his message and shared their commitment to moving forward and being a part of the solution to keep our schools safe and putting a stop to the false threats that have been disrupting their education. We are also asking that parents encourage your children to report any threats, rumors or suspicious behavior to school officials immediately. It is critical for students to understand that they can personally contribute to the existence of an atmosphere that is kind, respectful, and secure.
The safety issues confronting our nation and community are serious. Many experts are quick to point out that acts of violence, such as bombings, have occurred in our society without any threat or warning at all. The presence of a threat does not guarantee violence, nor does the absence of a threat guarantee that nothing will occur. We know that parents, students, and staff will work together to help maintain a focus on teaching and learning in our schools as we address the recent incidents and move forward with educating our students. If you have a concern that has not been addressed, please contact me. Thank you in advance for your cooperation as we work together to ensure the safest environment for our students, staff and community.
Darla Pianowski, Ed.D.
Superintendent; Eastern York School District
Dear Eastern York High School Families:
The purpose of this letter is to provide you with additional details concerning an event that occurred one morning last week prior to the start of school and to also outline heightened security measures that have been instituted following that event.
On Monday, September 26, at 7:07 a.m., a young adult male – who is not enrolled as a student – entered the high school along with other student car riders. This individual was not transported by a school bus. After he entered the building, he walked to the cafeteria where he blended in with other students. Earlier in the morning, through facebook messenger, a female student asked him to meet her at the school. The young adult male used his mobile phone to communicate with her while he was in the building. The female student walked down the hall and around the corner where she met him. She walked into the girls’ restroom and a moment later he followed her. During the time they were in the restroom together, additional people walked in and out of the restroom. After the female student exited the restroom, she went to her classroom. The young adult male was approached by a teacher. He told the teacher that he was a new student and didn’t know where he was supposed to go. The teacher escorted him to the office. He was permitted to use the restroom, and instead, he exited the building, got into a car, and left the campus. At this point it became obvious he was not a new student and school administrators were made aware of his presence. The local police department was contacted and all exterior doors were checked. The bathrooms were checked for anything suspicious. A photo of the young adult male was taken from a surveillance video and was distributed to teachers who were asked to be on the lookout for this individual. Bits and pieces of information were pulled together throughout the rest of the day. After police determined the name of the suspect, they were able to begin the search for him out in the community. Prior to dismissal time, police contacted the school and recommended that students remain in the building until police presence could be provided as an extra precaution while students exited the building. The female is not attending EYHS at this time and the young adult male has not been located. Though we do not anticipate this person will attempt to enter the building when his girlfriend is no longer attending the school, we do recognize the need to determine ways to monitor access during times when the doors are open at the beginning and end of each day.
Providing a safe and secure educational environment in our schools is of paramount importance and is an incredibly complex process. As school leaders, we are looking to enhance access control so that we can prevent unwanted visitors from entering the building during student arrival and dismissal times when there is a large volume of student and staff movement. We are researching ways that may provide better access control of persons entering our school during those times.
Following are general aspects of recent security upgrades:
- Additional staff members have been assigned to monitor students during arrival and dismissal times.
- We are conducting research to determine whether a school resource officer (SRO) could be employed by the school district.
- Situational awareness training has been provided to all EYSD employees. Additional training has been provided in maintaining a safe and caring school climate. Situational awareness is the ability to identify, process and comprehend the critical elements of information about what is happening around you. This generally provides greater opportunities to prevent or at least mitigate a threat.
- Situational awareness training is currently being planned for students.
- I communicated with teachers and students and asked for everyone to help create and maintain a trusting and connected school climate. School safety is an “inside job” and it is important to have all students involved in their own safety through classroom discussions. To that end, students responded with their suggestions and recommendations for how we might go about creating an environment where everyone acts responsibly regarding student safety.
I appreciate support from the community and value your input as we learn from the recent event and plan for additional ways to provide a safe and secure learning environment for everyone.
Dr. Timothy W. Mitzel, Principal
Eastern York High School