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UPSD Committee Tables Armed Guards Option
Written by Bradley Schlegel, Staff Writer

            Following a multitude of concerning audience comments, the Upper Perkiomen Facilities Committee took no action on a proposal to enhance its security situation for the upcoming school year. On Monday, the members agreed to postpone making a recommendation to hire five armed guards for the 2023-24 school year.

            "I don't think we're ready to make a motion," Chair J.P. Prego said at the end of an hour-long discussion on the issue. "There's a lot more information we need to go through."

            Administrators have suggested that the district hire five armed security guards for the upcoming school year. According to Superintendent Allyn Roche, one would be assigned to each of the district's schools. He said after the public meeting that the district would maintain its three unarmed guards, two of which are located at the high school and the other at the middle school.

            According to Roche, administrators have held ongoing discussions on this security option for at least a year. He provided research, compiled by the district, identifying 14 proximate districts – including Perkiomen Valley, Boyertown, Pottsgrove, Quakertown, Daniel Boone and Pennridge – that utilize at least one armed guard.

            Nearly all the input from residents, who nearly filled the seats inside the meeting room at the district's Education Center, expressed reservations with the proposal. A vast majority of the attendees said they opposed it.

            Steven Runyan, a Pennsburg resident, said he was "on the fence" on the issue. An unidentified woman told the committee it should be doing everything and anything to keep children safe.  "They are sitting ducks," she said.

            Doug Buckler, an Upper Hanover resident, told the committee that the idea of allowing guns into the school is "borderline crazy." He said the district is much better off with the security enhancements already implemented.

            An eleventh grade student described the idea of a security guard in her school with a handgun as "terrifying." Fighting back tears, she asked if administrators had a plan to reassure the students they would be safe.

            Christine Schmoyer argued that the implementation of armed guards should be the very last step taken as part of a comprehensive safety approach.

            According to one man, the introduction of an armed guard would make the school feel like a prison. A woman expressed concern their presence would enhance the school-to-prison pipeline by lead to additional student arrests for non-violent offenses.

            Another resident, who identified herself as a woman raising three black boys, asked if the armed guards would undergo diversity or bias training. She added that her children were afraid of people with guns.

            Committee Member Melanie Cunningham told the audience the school board would have input over the people who entered the buildings. She also felt the need to dispel a misperception in the room of the district's intent to hire armed guards.

            "We're not going to have 40 soldiers holding AK-47s scaring the employees and shooting at whatever moves," Cunningham said.

            According to Douglas Kenwood, the district's facilities director, the plan is to contract with an outside agency for the armed guards. He said during the meeting that any company hired by the district must be approved by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. Additionally, any new guard must have at least two years of experience as a police officer, corrections officer, parole officer or two years on active military duty.

            The district has received responses from 12 contractors in response to a request for a proposal for the armed guards, according to Roche. He said after the meeting that they would be opened later this week.

            Administrators have budgeted $288,000 for the armed guards, according an email message received Wednesday morning from district spokesperson Alexis Jenofsky. She wrote that the district will have confirmed numbers after the RFPs are opened and scored.

            According to Roche, administrators initially investigated partnering with the state police and the Upper Perk Police Department for coverage at the high school, located at 2 Walt Road in Red Hill, and the middle school, located at 901 Montgomery Avenue in Upper Hanover. He said after the meeting that contracting for armed security was the most cost-effective option for keeping the students and staff safe.

            According to UPPD Chief Joe Adam, who discussed the issue with administrators in December, the district would have limited control of the guards should it contract with a vendor. He said the best course of action for school officials to maintain oversight is to create own police department.






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