#schoolsafety | Safety Concerns Highlight Of Hatboro-Horsham School Board Mtg.

HATBORO-HORSHAM, PA — Safety concerns were front and center during the Hatboro-Horsham School Board meeting Monday night, with parents speaking out about reported threats at the high school and violent fights that even led to an early dismissal one day last week.

“Over the past week, our high school has faced some unfortunate issues of fighting, violence and threats,” Superintendent Scott Eveslage said during opening remarks mere minutes into the meeting. “We understand that parents, students and members of the school community have concerns.”

Eveslage said he understood there were some concerns over district communications to families regarding last week’s incidents, stating that it is a balancing act between being open and transparent while also keeping student identities confidential for legal reasons.

“This past week has been hectic and difficult on so many fronts,” Eveslage said.

He said the district aims to bring “clarity and accurate information,” but noted the challenges such as protecting student privacy due to federal law.

“Laws do not allow us to use names or situations that could identify a student or a situation,” he said, pointing specifically to FERPA, or the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

He did say that threats are taken very seriously at the district, and school officials work closely with local law enforcement to determine whether criminal conduct has occurred, and what the next steps should be.

“Situations this past week are taken seriously and are being addressed,” Eveslage said.

Eveslage said some steps that have already been taken to address these issues has been to increase the presence of staff in the lobby and hallways and adding additional police presence inside the high school.

One individual who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, Jackie Evangelista, whose child is a senior at the high school, thanked the district for acting quickly on last week’s threat incident, but said more could be done to alleviate parental and community concern in the future, such as developing a number or code system that would categorize the severity of lockdowns.

“This could have easily been addressed earlier to avoid frustrations and students and parents,” she said.

Evangelista’s comments echoed some concerns raised by the community in social media posts, in which some accused the district of not being forthright enough, saying that school officials could have given the community more information without getting into the names of specific students.

“There are so many rumors and the district doesn’t feel it necessary to clear it up,” Dee Marie posted on the Horsham Township Pa. public Facebook group on Monday. “They hide beyond protecting student identities They can tell us the why without revealing The Who!”

At the meeting, Evangelista said students and teachers felt “very much in the dark” amid last week’s chaos, and said that days went on with “assumptions and false facts” when the district didn’t address community concern to the threats and violence quickly enough.

Students also spoke about the issues, with one, high school senior Morgan Long, addressing the board during the Monday meeting.

“We all know what happened last week was emotional, unnerving and monumental for the entire community,” Long said.

Long said her goal was to not lay blame and offer criticisms, but to come up with sensible solutions to these problems so that they can be avoided going forward.

“Pointing fingers and blame will not shift our school community,” Long said.

She surmised that many of the issues plaguing the student body stems from a “breakdown in relationships and school values.”

Long said there needs to be a greater emphasis on student-to-student relationships, and she would like a see a program started that would connect students with each other in a positive manner.

The idea is that students who know each other would be less likely to harm one another, she said.

Barbara Murphy, who has two children in the district — a seventh grade middle schooler and a high school senior — said it is common knowledge that problematic fights have been occurring at the high school for the past four years.

Some of the fights, she said, have even been videotaped. There are people, she said, who are “acting like this is normal.

“High school students do know how to act,” she said. “I don’t believe that the pandemic has created this.”

Murphy’s comments on the pandemic were a reference to a sentiment shared by some that social misbehavior can be partly blamed on the fact that students had to learn remotely for a while during the early days of COVID-19, and that that somehow has caused students to forget how to coexist once back together inside school buildings.

While some parents to believe the pandemic lockdown is partly to blame for discipline issues, other parents on social media lately have voiced frustration at blaming these types of violent incidents on COVID-19.

Monday’s entire Hatboro-Horsham School Board meeting is available on the district’s YouTube channel.

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