Friday, January 26, 2024

A disturbing sign of the times; armed guards in Catholic schools


Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese to put armed guards in schools

The diocese plans to use the officers at K-8 buildings and high schools

The Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh on Thursday said they would be staffing armed officers in schools amid concerns over safety and security. 

The announcement came during a news conference where diocese schools Superintendent Michelle Peduto released a report on its 45 schools. Officers will respond to grade schools through high schools. 

Ms. Peduto was joined by Wendell Hissrich, who was hired as a security expert by Bishop David Zubik in August to expand the response to school safety threats. 

Mr. Hissrich, the former director of public safety for Pittsburgh whose law enforcement experience includes 25 years with the FBI, said the diocese hired four regional security supervisors, all with law enforcement backgrounds — including former state troopers and county officers — about two weeks ago.

The four supervisors are assigned to the three regions in the diocese and the high schools. 

He said conditional offers of employment are expected to go out to six additional officers within a week. 

The officers will act as the liaison between school officials and local public safety agencies, Mr. Hissrich said. He said there was “strict criteria” for hiring the officers. 

“The experience we were looking for in hiring these officers was that they are able to deal with people, deal with parents, deal with students and de-escalate situations,” Mr. Hissrich said. 

Once those officers are onboarded, Mr. Hissrich said he would be looking into adding more. 

“The ideal situation is having more and more officers as time goes on so they can spend more time in each school, but we’re just not at that point yet,” Mr. Hissrich said. 

Mr. Hissrich said he hopes school officers never have to unholster their firearm, but emphasized the random nature of school shootings. 

“We hope that we never have to draw a weapon, at the same time, in this day and age, we don't know when and where it’s going to happen,” Mr. Hissrich said.

The announcement comes after a series of 911 calls falsely reporting active shooters rattled schools across the state last spring, including Oakland and Central Catholic, prompting lockdowns. 

Mr. Hissrich said the decision to employ officers was not made in direct response to the “swatting” incidents, although he called school shootings “the hot button issue” and said he felt it necessary that the officers be armed. 

“We need to give the officers the tools to respond to any type of threat,” he said. “We’re also giving them tools like medical supplies as well.”

Mr. Hissrich said he has not received any pushback on the decision from parents.

“The feedback I’ve received so far is ‘When is this going to happen,’” he said. 

Alongside the new security plan, Ms. Peduto also released a report on demographics, testing and governance at diocese schools. 

Currently, there are 9,424 and 3,520 students enrolled at diocese K-8 schools and high schools respectively, with student teacher ratio’s of 10:1 at high schools and 14:1 at middle schools and elementary schools, according to the report. 

The report also touted Iowa Assessment test scores that exceeded national standards in all subjects among students in grades 3-8 at diocese schools in 2023. 

“Our teachers, staff and administrators worked and prayed alongside parents to keep our students on task and learning through some very challenging years,” Ms. Peduto said in the report. “This shows not only in their test scores and 100% graduation rate, but in their love for Jesus and their commitment to serving their community in the world.” 

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