Parents of Admiral Peary teens concerned

EBENSBURG – Admiral Peary Vo-Tech and Blacklick Valley School District are in the process of expelling the 16-year-old student who took a loaded 9 mm handgun to school Jan. 24.

Bad weather delayed a hearing until Wednesday morning, but school officials expect to hand down the maximum one-year expulsion allowed for a student under age 18.

In the meantime, parents of some students attending the school said they are concerned the incident is the fallout of a bullying problem, with the student having told vo-tech Executive Director Ken Jubas he had the gun because he was afraid of being jumped after school by another student.

Administrators investigated the incident, Jubas said, and don’t believe the threat was legitimate. Jubas also said he doubts the student felt threatened at Admiral Peary because of bullying.

“As best as I can tell, it’s not a bullying incident,” Jubas said, noting that the student who had the gun has personal problems that may have compounded his fears.

“He has a history, but … that’s for him to talk about,” he said.

With students arriving from seven different schools around the county, there are occasional problems – especially when it comes to Penn Cambria-Central Cambria and Cambria Heights-Northern Cambria football rivalries, he said – but without team sports at the vo-tech itself, typical bullying isn’t as much of a concern.

“For the most part … I don’t have the discipline issues here” that other schools have, he said. “We don’t have a football team or cheerleaders or a National Honor Society.”

The students show up, change into work clothes and spend the afternoon under car hoods or beneath welding helmets preparing for their careers, Jubas said.

“Everybody’s here doing what they love to do,” he added. “This is the blue-collar student. They’re going to work. They’re going to have a nice career. … That’s what we try to pump out.”

Jubas said he learned from talking with the student who allegedly made the threat and who also comes from Blacklick Valley High School in Nanty Glo, that the two students knew each other and had talked on Facebook, but that the talking never escalated into threats.

“There might have been some words shared or some scuttlebutt, but … he [the other student] said, ‘Well, so-and-so said this on Facebook, and then so-and-so said this on Facebook,'” Jubas said. “So I started to get into [the Facebook issue].”

However, Jubas said, there is a fine line as to what administrators believe that can do to involve themselves with social media issues and make decisions regarding bullying that takes place outside school without violating students’ rights.

A precedent-setting Pennsylvania Supreme Court case involving Blackhawk School District last year upheld past court decisions that school districts do not have a constitutional obligation to protect students from individual harm.

There were dissenting judges involved in that case, however, who thought the Blackhawk decision – that schools have no affirmative action to remove bullying threats from students – could produce dangerous results.

But Blacklick Valley Superintendent John Mastillo said parents do not have to worry that the Jan. 24 case was an example of fallout from a bullying problem that’s going unaddressed.

Mastillo said the district has a bullying policy that includes out-of-school harassment. The policy involves working with local law enforcement to make sure students feel safe inside school and out.

He also said bullying did not seem to be a factor in this case.

“To my knowledge, it’s not taking place,” he said, but administrators are still looking into the students’ interactions outside of school.

He could not confirm whether the student had the handgun on district grounds before his transportation to the vo-tech.

Aside from some tobacco violations and two fights, Admiral Peary Vo-Tech reported no possession of weapons and no other instances of crimes or bullying to the state last year, online Pennsylvania Department of Education “Safe School” information shows.

Admiral Peary has reported six illegal possessions of knives since the 1999-2000 school year.

Mirror Staff Writer Kelly Cernetich is at 946-7520. Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly contributed to this report. He is at 946-7435.