Lehigh Valley

Internal township memo warns police to stay away from Wind Gap Middle School

Superintendent: Decision to scale back police presence 'absurd'

PLAINFIELD TWP., Pa. - A Northampton County middle school is at the center of a dispute between a township board of supervisors and its police department, and the district superintendent is unhappy about it.

The controversy has its roots in a decision last August by Plainfield Township supervisors to remove a resource officer from the Wind Gap Middle School.

Last week, in an internal memo dated March 28, the supervisors told police Chief Dean Ceraul and the 12 men in his department that part of that decision was instructing Ceraul to only have an officer at the middle school when school buses are arriving or departing, and only if an officer is available.

The only other time Ceraul could send officers is if they are requested by the county during a 911 emergency, the memo states.

The memo then points out "numerous officers have been observed at the [middle] school for long periods of time without being called for an emergency." It says this is "in direct violation" of the board's instructions, and if the chief or any officer does not comply with the instructions, he will be suspended or fired. 

Pen Argyl Area School District Superintendent William Haberl said he was unaware of the memo when he was contacted by WFMZ.com early Tuesday afternoon, adding that he did not know if it prevented police from having a presence at Wind Gap Middle School.

"We have been on Easter vacation and this is our first day back," he said.

But Haberl was clearly upset -- "cranked up" was the way he put it -- at the order to scale back the police presence at the school, calling it "unbelievable" and "absurd."

Haberl said he believes the resource officer was pulled from the school because three new supervisors on the five-person board didn't like the way the police department was being run.

Haberl said he spoke with Chief Ceraul about ways to maintain a police presence after the August decision because "the largest concentration of people in the Pen Argyl Area School District is in our [elementary, middle and high] schools between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Friday."

The superintendent said it became even more important that children feel they are being protected after the mass murder of 20 children and six staffers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut last December.

Haberl said the district has about 1,800 students about evenly divided among the three schools, which are all about four miles apart.

He said the Plainfield officers "walk around and talk to the kids" at the middle school. "It's part of their [work] day," Haberl noted. "It's recorded in their daily log."

"We want them to come in," he added. "We're 100 percent behind the idea, and so are the parents. … People are so nervous [about] violence in school, and to have them [police] here makes [parents] say, 'What a smart thing to do.' "

The superintendent declined to say how many officers were at the school at any one time. "We want everybody to think they're here all the time."

WFMZ.com spoke with township supervisor Jane Mellert, who said because the memo was "an internal document not meant to be released publicly," the supervisors would have no comment until they had a chance to discuss the matter further.

Police Chief Ceraul told WFMZ.com that the matter was "a personnel issue. … I would rather not comment."

A phone call to the office of township solicitor, attorney David Backenstoe, of Hellertown, was not immediately returned.

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