With mass shootings occurring with more frequency over the last several years, a local school district is taking steps to ensure it is prepared if a shooting occurs at one of its schools.

Connellsville Area School District security personnel recently underwent a tactical training course to equip school police officers and armed security officers with skills that could save lives in an active shooter situation.

The district contracted C2 Tactical Training & Consulting based in Huntingdon County to provide firearms and active shooter response training for Director of Security Michael Parlak’s security team.

“It was a very eye-opening course of instruction. It vastly improved my personnel’s skill levels at those tactical duties that they may have to perform,” said Parlak, who is also a school police officer.

During the week-long course, a three-man team from C2 taught Connellsville security personnel in areas of weapons handling, restraint, de-escalation and active shooter response, among others, to prepare them for potential shooting threats in district schools.

The course was attended by 15 school police officers and armed security officers employed by the district.

The instructors walked the Connellsville team through scenarios and procedures for clearing and securing rooms and hallways of school buildings using tactics that minimize danger to themselves and others.

“We’re giving them the knowledge of how to enter a room, whether single or as a pair, to identify threats in a room in the event of a potential shooter, and how to clear a room,” said Carl Grove Jr., founder and co-owner of the Huntingdon, Pa.-based contractors.

“We’re providing them a way that is safe for them and for students and faculty.”

In early 2018, the Connellsville school board took multiple steps to enhance safety in the district amid heightened concerns stemming from multiple unsubstantiated threats of gun violence made at Connellsville Area High School and a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 dead. That included approving all school district security officers to be certified through state Act 235 to carry a handgun-type firearm and providing for every district building having an armed officer.

“The board made a very receptive and proactive decision to finally be able to arm school police and school security. However, the only certification in place is Act 235, and that’s only so much training. It’s very limiting,” said Parlak.

Parlak said his participation in an unrelated firearms certification course opened his eyes to additional skills from which his team could benefit beyond the Act 235 certification.

“This is going to give us direction in having standard operating procedures in place in several areas, including for use of force and securing rooms and buildings,” he said.

Parlak said all seven of Connellsville’s school buildings are staffed daily throughout the school year with security personnel that would be able to respond immediately to a potential shooting incident.

Both Parlak and Grove’s team of instructors at C2 applauded the Connellsville school board for taking a proactive approach to school security by seeking additional training for its armed personnel.

“It’s commendable for the school district to recognize (the district security team’s) needs to perform their job in the school. They’re not just hiring them and not giving them the skills they need,” said Keith Moon, an instructor for C2, which has experience training law enforcement, military, civilian groups and other emergency response teams. “We want taxpayers to know that the officers protecting their students are properly trained.”

The district employs 25 full-time, part-time or substitute school police officers and armed security officers.

“They are first line of defense and we are trying to prepare them as such,” Moon said.

Grove added that prior to administering the training at Connellsville, his team coordinated with Pennsylvania State Police, with whom the school district has a memorandum of understanding, to ensure they will be following similar protocols during such an incident.

Select members of the Connellsville team were instructed by C2 in a train-the-trainer format so the district officers can teach those unable to attend the July tactical course, as well as future personnel employed by the district, to ensure all officers have the skill set to respond to a shooting incident.

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