Sen. Mike Regan is taking legislative action in response to a Pennsylvania Department of Education memo that led some school security guards to report for work without their firearms.
“This is something we need to fast-track,” Regan (R-Cumberland/York) said.
The Education Department shared its interpretation of Act 44 in a memo entitled “Act 44 Updates“, saying only school police officers and school resource officers may lawfully carry firearms in schools.
The problem is many schools districts already have armed security guards. After the memo went out, those guards reported without firearms, raising safety concerns and questions about taxpayer money funding contracts for armed security guards that are no longer armed.
“I see what their concern is. The school districts maybe feel as though there could be some repercussion for them not following the letter of the memo that came down from PDE, is that going to impact their funding or is there something else that could happen,” said Regan.
For safety reasons, ABC27 is not identifying the school districts where security guards are now unarmed, but those districts are reacting. A superintendent in Perry County says the Education Department “interpretation came out of nowhere and was a total surprise.” A Dauphin County superintendent said its counsel “concurs with the PDE interpretation of Act 44.”
Regan says a law meant to make schools safer is being misinterpreted.
“So, we are taking steps right now to craft a bill which dispels anything that is not clear and make sure that everyone knows security guards are entitled with the same provisions of Act 44. They can be armed within the school,” said Regan.
John Sancenito is chairman of the Central Pennsylvania Chapter of ASIS International, the world’s largest trade group for the security industry. He says security guards offer school districts more options.
“There are 3,287 schools within the state of Pennsylvania. There are not 3,287 resource officers to go around. A school security guard also allows them to work within their budgets. The Department of Education is putting those contractual obligations and Pennsylvania businesses at risk,” said Sancenito.
Northern York School District uses armed security guards and is taking another approach to the department’s memo.
“The Northern York County School District went through an extensive process to ensure the legality of contracting with an outside firm for armed security officers. We received an opinion from the York County district attorney, went through a detailed vetting process with our school board, hosted community town hall meetings to solicit opinion/feedback from our community, worked closely with our local police department, and worked with our local legislators to write legislation that allows for a cost-effective solution that focuses on student safety and requires extensive training and experience of those officers we employ,” superintendent Dr. Eric C. Eshbach said.
“Upon receiving the letter from PDE, we immediately contacted the legislators who helped us with this initiative. They are working diligently with their legal teams to ensure that the safety of all of the students in our commonwealth is not held hostage by an outdated code that was written before the rash of violence public schools in America have experienced over the last several years,” Eshbach continued.
“While we wait for that process to be finalized, the Northern York County School District will continue with the model we have in place and that has been widely well-received from our parents and constituents.”
Regan already has a meeting with Gov. Tom Wolf to discuss his proposed bill.
“We are looking forward to letting him know the urgency of this,” said Regan. “I will ask the governor if he can ask PDE to relent in lieu of this new legislation coming out, and I am going to ask him and Democrats to support it.”