CLARION – The recent string of sexual harassment/assault allegations against high-profile Hollywood directors, politicians and newscasters appears to be garnering more support for sexual abuse prevention in the local area.
While exact numbers could not be provided, officials from the local PASSAGES (Prevention And Services for Sexual Assault through Guidance Empowerment and Support) office said they have not only noticed an influx of victims coming forward with their stories in recent weeks, but an increased interest in community prevention and education as well.
“It is apparent to our staff at PASSAGES that the string of recent disclosures regarding high-profile offenders has emboldened survivors to come forward in our area,” PASSAGES volunteer coordinator and community outreach advocate Tia DeShong said last week, noting, however, that specific numbers could not be provided because of confidentiality. “Similarly, we are seeing increased interest from community members looking to learn more about sexual violence prevention and to volunteer with our organization.”
Information released by PASSAGES describes sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal, [written] and physical harassment of a sexual nature.” While most common in the workplace, harassment can also occur in schools, businesses and public places.
DeShong explained that because sexual violence is typically fueled by power dynamics and one person’s attempt to coerce another, it is oftentimes difficult for victims — whether a high-profile celebrity or a low-level community member — to come forward due to the fear of retaliation and backlash from the perpetrator as well as the community at large.
“Despite the fact that delayed disclosures of abuse are far more common than immediate reports, many people assume that victims who come forward well after the fact are either lying as a way to seek revenge or opportunistically jumping on the crime-reporting bandwagon,” she said, noting the importance of not only educating community members on the recourse available should they face sexual harassment, but creating “communities where survivors can come forward and know they will be believed and supported.”
One way PASSAGES works to achieve this, according to DeShong, is by providing age-appropriate prevention education programs to teach community members — from pre-school children to adults — about sexual violence from unsafe touching and asking for help to bullying prevention and staying safe and respecting others to healthy relationships, consent and social media to bystander intervention and how to keep children and other vulnerable populations safe.
“By starting these conversations young and having them frequently throughout life, we are raising a generation of children who know about their own bodily autonomy and respect it in others,” DeShong noted, adding that it also makes children less likely to commit crime later in life and more likely to help others should they need it.
“These programs are our best weapon against sexual violence, and the more informed participants we have the better they work in our communities,” she continued, explaining that because sexual violence is often committed by someone the victim knows, tactics such as rape whistles, mace or self-defense classes will be useless in most cases.
In addition, DeShong pointed out the importance of education in the judicial system, especially for average citizens from the community who make up juries.
“Juries who do not understand sexual violence or its effect on victims are more likely to let violent predators off the hook and back on the street where they may reoffend,” she said. “As a matter of public safety, educated communities are essential.”
When it comes to reporting sexual harassment and assault, DeShong urged individuals to become familiar with the sexual harassment policies at their workplace, and encouraged businesses and organizations to make individual policies transparent for employees, while ensuring it complies with federal standards regarding workplace discrimination.
Additionally, she said parents with school-aged through college-aged children, should become familiar with Title IX, which prevents sexual discrimination in educational institutions, as well as who handles those complaints.
Sexual violence reports can also be made at the local police station, and DeShong noted that PASSAGES can provide legal advocates to accompany victims when they report an incident.
“It is important for survivors of both sexual harassment and assault to know that they do not have to come forward and report in order to receive support,” DeShong said, noting that many victims will talk about their assault to family, friends or counselors but never make an official report. “There are many healthy ways to begin healing. The most important thing is that the survivor finds sources of support — whether that is family and friends, PASSAGES or other counseling services.”
Serving clients of all ages and genders in Clarion, Jefferson and Clearfield counties, PASSAGES is a non-profit sexual violence victim’s advocacy agency that provides free and confidential services in counseling, legal advocacy, prevention education and medical/legal accompaniment. The organization tackles issues ranging from sexual harassment and bullying through sexual assault and rape, and hosts numerous outreach events to raise awareness of these issues.
Numerous volunteering opportunities, such as attending community outreach events, assisting with prevention education programming and acting as on-call victim advocates — are also available. In order to be a volunteer, a person must be at least 18 years old, have a reliable form of transportation, and be able to pass a criminal background check and obtain child abuse clearances.
In addition, individuals must pass a criminal background check and complete 40 hours of flexible training courses.
For more information on PASSAGES or volunteering in the Clarion area, call (814) 226-7273, or visit www.passages-inc.org. For free and confidential services for sexual assault incidents, call 1-800-793-3620.
RIMERSBURG – After several years of speculation, Rimersburg Borough officials on Monday night agreed to withdraw as an official member of the Union Council of Governments, while at the same time increasing Rimersburg’s financial support for the COG’s pool park in Sligo.
The move came as the borough council approved the 2018 budget, which maintains property tax levels.
Rimersburg Borough was one of the founding members of the COG decades ago, and their withdrawal leaves on Sligo Borough and Monroe Township as official members of the organization which was founded as a way for boroughs and townships in the area to work together on a variety of projects. However, as the years passed and members withdrew support, the COG now only functions to manage the pool park.
Rimersburg’s COG representative, council member Lark Palm, brought up the matter at Monday’s meeting, saying that she wanted to increase the amount in the 2018 budget for COG from $3,000 to $5,000. Officials noted that the annual $2,500 contribution from each COG member is routinely increased by the end of the year as the pool park’s debt is calculated. For instance, the COG requested an additional $1,625 from each member this year to offset costs.
Council members Pam Curry and Scott Myers initially balked at Palm’s request to increase the budget number. Myers said he would support the increase only if the borough voted to withdraw from the COG.
“We don’t want to see it fail,” councilman T.L. Stewart said of the local pool park. However, he said that by dropping out of the COG, Rimersburg could limit its liability to whatever amount it wished to donate each year, rather than to be on the hook for whatever debt the park accumulated.
Stewart also noted that just because Rimersburg plans to give $5,000 for 2018, doesn’t mean it has to give that much, or anything at all, in future years.
“If we don’t have the money to do it,” he said.
“I want this to be a continuing thing,” Palm countered, saying that if Rimersburg doesn’t back the park financially, the loss might be insurmountable for the COG.
“I don’t want to say in stone we’re going to give them $5,000 every year,” Stewart responded.
Palm said she felt it would be “backhanded” of Rimersburg to not make an annual contribution, especially since it has always been able to find the necessary money in past years.
Council president Roger Crick said he was torn about withdrawing from the COG, saying that he felt it was important to support the park in the same manner as it is important to support the library in Rimersburg. He said that the “potential open liability” that the park presented, scared him.
Officials noted that increasing the COG donation by $2,000 would force an already deficit budget further into the red.
After finding some additional funds that became available with a change in borough employee health coverage, Palm made a motion to terminate the COG membership and budget $5,000 for the pool park in 2018.
“I have real mixed feelings about this,” Crick said.
Councilman Dan Stewart added, “Boy, there’s not much for the kids.”
Palm said that while she is in “full support of us supporting the pool,” she too is concerned with liability issues the park presents. She said she will fight each year for a hefty donation from the borough for the park.
T.L. Stewart noted that if the park had a compelling reason to ask for more money, the borough could at that time consider the request.
Palm’s motion was approved by a 5-1 vote, with Curry voting in opposition.
Some of the money that was found in the 2018 budget to offset the increased COG donation came from savings the borough expects to receive from changing the employee health insurance plan.
T.L. Stewart said that the Personnel Committee recommended switching to a UPMC Gold PPO plan that would cost the borough roughly $31,379 in the new year — a savings of nearly $10,000 from the current plan.
The new plan will increase the deductible cost for employees; however, Stewart said the borough would pay for the second half of the $1,500 deductible and give employees a 50-cent per hour pay raise to offset the additional costs.
With those changes, the borough’s general fund budget remained in the red, somewhere between $16,000 and $18,000 that will be made up with reserve accounts. Due to the late changes to the budget, the final version of the 2018 spending plan was not available as of press time.
The budget was approved unanimously, along with the tax ordinance which maintains property tax levels in the new year.
Water Leaks Persist
With Rimersburg’s cost of purchasing water from East Brady expected to double in the new year, officials expressed concerns Monday night about ongoing water leak problems.
Crick said that the borough’s water loss, usually around 1 million gallons per month, had jumped to 1.5 million gallons. He said that the water losses alone would result in nearly $5,700 per month in additional costs once the rates rise next year.
“It’s getting very expensive,” he said.
Officials noted that Pennsylvania Rural Water will be coming in next week to help borough crews locate any leaks; however, members said they suspected that a significant portion of the lost water was the result of old water meters that do not accurately reflect the true amount of water used by homes and businesses.
“It’s like chasing a dog’s tail,” Crick said. “It’s a full time job with a 100-year-old system.”
The council has boosted the amount of money in the budget to replace meters, but Crick said he was encouraging the Rimersburg Municipal Authority to pursue grants to pay for a full replacement of water meters in the service area.
• Council approved the purchase of a new sign and bracket for the municipal building along Route 68. The sign will cost approximately $800 from Kline Signs of New Bethlehem.
• The council will hold its reorganization meeting, followed by its regular January meeting, at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 2.
HAWTHORN – Nearly two weeks after a major line break left most of its customers without water for more than 24 hours, Hawthorn-Redbank-Redbank Municipal Authority (HRRMA) officials said Monday that everything is now operating as normal.
“We are back in operation and everything is operating as it should be,” HRRMA chairman Dave Thomas said of the water system, which was affected by a large bell leak in the new main water line coming from the Red Bank Creek in the early morning hours of Sunday, Nov. 19.
Crews were unable to determine the location of the leak until early Monday morning, leaving most customers without water until later that evening when work to repair the line was complete.
Thomas noted that the section of line that sprung the leak has been completely repaired with new piping.
“It’s all taken care of,” he said.
To help replenish the water in the storage tank that was lost as a result of the leak, HRRMA used an interconnect to pump water to Hawthorn from the Redbank Valley Municipal Authority water plant in New Bethlehem, which Thomas said was able to be completely turned off last Wednesday.
“Most of the tank was filled up the Sunday after the leak occurred,” he noted.
As a result of the leak, all HRRMA customers — which include residents in Hawthorn, Oak Ridge, Sherman Heights and Fairmount City — were under a boil water advisory from the time water service was restored on Monday, Nov. 20 through Friday, Dec. 1.
According to Thomas, the state required HRRMA to provide water samples from two consecutive days of testing before the advisory could be lifted, a simple task made more challenging with the Thanksgiving holiday and the start of buck season.
“A lot of the labs were closed because of the holidays,” Thomas said, explaining the delay in testing the water samples.
Thomas also noted on Monday that all of the new water lines in Hawthorn and Redbank Township (Clarion County) are in the ground and are just waiting to be hooked up.
“All of the old lines should be dead after that,” he said.
NEW BETHLEHEM and RIMERSBURG – Redbank Valley and Union school officials reacted in recent weeks to the release of this year’s state-tabulated School Performance Profile (SPP) scores.
The scores, given to each school based on student testing and a wide variety of other factors, were designed several years ago to give communities an idea of how their local schools were performing compared with other schools in the area.
“Education has changed dramatically,” Union High School principal Mark Schlosser told Union School Board members recently when talking about the SPP scores. He noted that student and school success is now in the hands of statisticians.
The recently released profiles were a mixed bag for the local school districts, with some officials pointing to higher scores than other nearby schools, and others noting improvements from previous years despite scores that were lower than hoped for.
At Redbank, the high school was given an overall score of 64.5, an 8-point drop from the previous year. Conversely, Redbank Valley Intermediate School saw its score rise dramatically to 85.4 which was the highest score of any school in the area. Redbank Valley Primary School scored 78.7.
For Union, the high school score rose slightly to 61.2 for this year, up from 60.1, while Rimersburg Elementary School scored 65.9, down from 72.3 last year. Sligo Elementary School’s score of 58.7 was among the lowest in the area.
So, what do the scores really mean, and are they an accurate indication of how students, teachers and schools are performing?
“Although the SPP score at [Redbank Vally High School] dropped from 73.9 to 64.5, this number does not tell the whole story,” RVHS principal Amy Rupp explained. “Students at Redbank Valley High School are improving overall academically.”
She pointed to student growth on the algebra portion of the Keystone Exams, which showed a 27 percent proficient rate in 2015-16 improve to a 44 percent proficient rate in 2017-18. She said that overall test scores in biology and literature are also improving. Only 8 percent of students scored “below basic” on the most recent biology tests, down from 19 percent; while students in the lowest range of literature scores decreased from 14 percent to 8 percent.
At the middle school level at Redbank, Rupp said scores have remained consistent.
Success, she said, is best measured by looking at where recent Redbank graduates are now.
Noting that Redbank graduated 96 students last year, Rupp said 65 percent are now in college or technical schools, with an additional 15 percent in the military. Twenty percent of last year’s graduates entered the workforce.
“Teachers at the high school received positive feedback [from past students] regarding the college preparation that the students received while attending RVHS,” Rupp said. “We are proud of our students, and we are always starving to improve academically.”
Redbank Elementary principal Cheryl McCauley said she is happy with the improvement in scores at both elementary schools. She noted, however, that because the primary school ends at second grade, students there do not take the PSSA exams, which begin in third grade.
“At the intermediate level, we saw a solid improvement and achieved, from what I have seen, the highest elementary SPP in the county,” McCauley said. “I am extremely proud of my staff, students and our families that put in a lot of hard work and perseverance to make this happen.”
McCauley said the school board has stood behind the schools, supping a new standards-aligned math series a couple of years ago, and by approving a new series this year “that will help us meet the content and rogor of the tests.”
“We also began the process of including most of our learning support students into the regular education classroom for core instruction, followed by intensive support from the learning support teachers, this year,” McCauley continued. “We are hoping that the impact of this practice helps to close the achievement gap for our learning support students.”
Union elementary principal Tom Minick said that while the elementary scores were “not favorable,” the scores alone “don’t mean we weren’t working hard.”
He noted that recent changes at the schools hasn’t led to the results he had hoped for.
“We own our scores,” Minick told the school board, adding that the students are working hard and the teachers are working to build up their esteem.
Schlosser said that at the high school, he’s not satisfied with the SPP score but was pleased to see that the school’s growth was the best in five years.
“Progress is being made,” he said, pointing to an increase in students who scored “advanced” in the most recent testing. He also noted that Union High School was the only one of the six local high schools to show an improvement in its SPP score this year.
While the focus has been on SPP scores for several years now, Schlosser explained that this was the final year for the SPP rating. The state will move away from a single rating system that will look more at a “dashboard” of factors.
“Continuous improvement in education is one of our goals each and every year,” Union superintendent Jean McCleary said of the SPP scores. “Our district theme this year is ‘getting better together.’ The administration decided on the theme with the idea of K-12 teamwork focusing on continuous improvement in the areas of academic growth, academic achievement, professional learning for the staff and administration, cooperation with all parties involved including parent/family members, and the safety of employees and students.”
She said that the SPP score does not factor in all facets of the school district.
To help with improvements, McCleary said the district purchased OnHand software to warehouse student data as a knowledge management center.
“The software platform allows district staff and administration to ‘data mine’ and make data-driven decisions based on student data,” she said. “The software will also allow for curriculum mapping and create a system of curriculum alignment.”
McCleary also said Union has created a district assessment plan that will allow the administration “to examine the assessments and revise or add assessments to provide a greater opportunity to guide teacher instruction to meet individual student needs.”
The New Bethlehem community ushered in the start of the Christmas season last weekend with a parade and visit by Santa Claus, and the Rimersburg community will join in the fun starting tonight.
Light Up Night will be held in the Rimersburg Veterans Memorial Park along Main Street starting at 7 p.m. There will be music, refreshments and a visit by Santa.
And looking ahead, Santa Claus will return to Rimersburg on Saturday, Dec. 16, from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Rimersburg Community Building. The free event, sponsored by the Rimersburg Chamber of Commerce, will include photos with the man in red, crafts, games and refreshments.
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The Christmas countdown is underway, and time is ticking for local children to submit their letters to Santa Claus for publication in The Leader-Vindicator.
We will be running the letters and other Christmas writings submitted by local school classrooms, as well as individual children, starting in this week’s paper and continuing through the Dec. 20-21 issue. We make every effort to get every letter in the newspaper before Christmas, but the sooner we receive them, the better chance they will be published in time.
Letters can be dropped off at our office, emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to us at: The Leader-Vindicator, 435 Broad Street, New Bethlehem, PA 16242.
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The Redbank Valley Chamber of Commerce is in the midst of a growth spurt these days, with new members joining the local business organization every month.
Now, those members can enjoy one of the chamber’s great annual events — the Nips and Nibbles holiday social which will be held at EverMoore’s Restaurant in New Bethlehem this Thursday, Dec. 7, starting at 5 p.m.
Hosted by First United National Bank, the event is only for chamber members, who are encouraged to come and visit with other members and chamber officials during the informal social time.
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The Leader-Vindicator’s display at Redbank Valley Municipal Park’s drive-though Christmas lights event added a new lighted shooting star this year.
Be sure to check it out during the event, which will be held from 5:30 to 9 p.m. the next two Friday and Saturday nights at the park. Admission is a $5 donation per carload to benefit the park.
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If a little holiday music will help get you into the Christmas spirit, several events are being held this weekend.
The New Bethlehem Area Community Choir will present the Christmas Cantata, “Carols and Classics,” at the First Church of God on Saturday, Dec. 9 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 10 at 2 p.m.
Also, the Clarion Dulcimer Club’s Holiday Music Concert will be held this Sunday at 2 p.m. at DeBence’s Antique Music World along Liberty Street in Franklin. The free concert will last approximately an hour, with cookies and punch served afterward.
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If you’re planning a holiday-time getaway this year, don’t forget to “Take The L-V With You.”
Whether its a day trip to see the Christmas decorations in Pittsburgh, Christmas light displays in the region or a holiday vacation to the beach, take along a copy of The L-V and snap a photo of your travel group with the newspaper at a memorable stop along the way. Send that picture in to us at email@example.com, and we’ll save it for our annual vacation photo pages that will run next year.