The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

April 10, 2014

Local school calm in wake of own scare

Conemaugh Valley reviews policies after alleged threat

Randy Griffith
rgriffith@tribdem.com

JOHNSTOWN — Less than three weeks after a scare of their own, Conemaugh Valley School District students remained calm as details unfolded about Wednesday’s knife attack that injured 21 students and a guard at Franklin Regional High School in Westmoreland County.

“We feel the kids are reacting well,” Superintendent David Lehman said.

“Our guidance counselors are always informed. If we need any extra people, we get them.

“There has been no above-normal anxiety.”

Attendance Thursday was at 93 percent, showing few students stayed home in reaction to Wednesday’s violence, Lehman said.

Conemaugh Valley leaders continuously review safety and security measures and stepped up scrutiny after a student reported overhearing another boy make threats on March 20.

Beth Graffius of East Taylor Township asked the Conemaugh Valley school board on Thursday why parents weren’t notified sooner about the March 20 incident. Although the alleged threat was reported immediately to administrators, the parents’ “one-call” notification wasn’t made until the following morning after students were to be in school.

“I have four children in the district,” Graffius said at Thursday’s meeting at the high school. “Why was there such a delay in parents finding out about it? It made me sick at the thought of what could have happened. We are fools to think it could not happen here.”

The student who allegedly was overheard had already left school on March 20 when the other student told school officials, Lehman explained. Police were notified.

“He was taken care of,” Lehman said. “They brought him in with the escort of the police the next day.”

The investigation is continuing Lehman said, explaining that he and police can’t say much because there are minors involved.

“We had it wrapped up,” he said. “We knew what was going on. If I felt there was something, I would have canceled school.”

But by that time, the rumor mills had gone cyber in the social media. There were reports on Facebook and other sites about snipers on the school roof, SWAT units surrounding the school and a gunman in the area.

“It was pandemonium,” Lehman said. By the end of the day, nearly three-fourths of the students had been taken out of school by parents.

Lehman said the district is trying to learn from the incident.

“I am now a Facebook stalker,” he said, asking those at the meeting to help him get accurate information and weed out rumors.

The district has reviewed its security measures.  

“We made sure our cameras were OK,” Lehman said. “We went over the procedures with staff. We have had extra police in and out.”

A previously scheduled tour of the future elementary school on Wednesday brought dozens of police and emergency workers through the building, which is under construction off William Penn Highway near the high school.

“We want to make sure they know what we have,” Lehman said. “We want their opinions. They will be heavily involved in all of our evacuation plans.”

Conemaugh Valley has had school resource officers in both buildings to provide a law enforcement presence for two years, Lehman noted.

Later in Thursday’s meeting, the school board approved up to $1,000 for the purchase of four hand-held metal detectors. Two will be available in each building.

“It will be a lot safer if we have them,” Lehman said.



Randy Griffith is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/photogriffer57.