Incident at United concerning

United High School in Indiana County isn’t in the Mirror’s general circulation area.

However, the high school isn’t very far from communities that this newspaper reaches each day; the United School District is connected to Blair County by Route 22.

The high school, just outside the town of Armagh along Route 56, rarely is the site of breaking news except, perhaps, for an occasional traffic accident on the busy roadway that passes in front of the school. Beyond local news reports covering school activities, student achievements and school board actions, most of the other media accounts dealing with the district are school sports-related.

That’s not a bad scenario.

But the routine, predominantly quiet life of the district was disrupted Friday afternoon, and the situation brought attention and concern from far beyond the district’s borders — as it should have.

State police, as well as K-9 and bomb squad units from Pittsburgh, were called in to ascertain whether explosives or any other dangerous objects or devices had been planted on the school property. District administrators were right in not hesitating to summon outside expert help to make that determination.

Fortunately, nothing dangerous or threatening was found, but it took hours before an all-clear assurance could be given.

The fact that the situation began just hours before members of the senior class were to receive their diplomas, the district administration employed good judgment in postponing the commencement exercises.

The graduation ceremony was rescheduled for Monday.

Here’s how the incident evolved:

Surveillance cameras captured what were believed to be 10 seniors entering a restricted part of the high school. One of the individuals, who was carrying a backpack, was seen entering a crawl space.

All considered, anything other than a thorough probe of the school property would have been irresponsible, and administrators opted for the correct response.

District Superintendent Barbara Parkins reported in an email to the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat that eight seniors actually participated in the incident and that “the guilty students admitted to their mistakes while they and their parents met with school administrators.”

The initial — appropriate — punishment imposed on the eight seniors was that they were prohibited from participating in the rescheduled commencement ceremonies. Meanwhile, it was unclear what other punishments might eventually be imposed, including whether the individuals would face criminal charges.

Additional punishments would not be out of order.

As much as the incident triggered concern, it also triggered puzzlement about why the young people in question, only hours away from beginning their lives beyond high school, would do something so irresponsible and stupid — and also so potentially life-threatening.

The response to such an incident is not without financial costs. The question becomes whether those costs ultimately will be the responsibility of the now former students and their parents.

Beyond that, the former students will carry the baggage from the incident with them — prank or not –in their future pursuits, and that’s not a prospect with which to be comfortable.

Students, not only from United, should heed the lessons stemming from Friday’s misguided adventure.

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