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School Board seeks to ease fears

April 27, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

Washington County's schools are safe, but not from fear.

As anxiety about violence surged last week in the wake of last Tuesday's shootings in Littleton, Colo., local rumors made worries worse.

The Washington County Board of Education called a special meeting Monday night to address community concerns.

Students and parents testified about the safety of their schools and administrators discussed the security measures already in place.

"This is one of the safest school systems in Maryland and probably on the East Coast," said Joseph Millward, supervisor of pupil personnel and guidance.

Washington County's suspension rate for students carrying weapons is one of the lowest in the state, according to Millward.

He discussed the school system's safeguards, such as a crisis intervention team that serves the entire county.

Schools have a discipline code, a manual of emergency procedures and a standing agreement with police to help when they are needed, he said.

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North Hagerstown High School Principal David Reeder spoke of peer mediation and Students Against Destructive Decisions as outlets for troubled kids.

"We can put metal detectors in every school and we can put police in every school, but communication and getting to the root of the problem with the students is the key," he said.

"Students have a lot of places they can go whenever they feel there's a problem," said Danny Sullivan, student council association president. "I think we're in very good hands. I don't feel unsafe at all."

Sullivan said a strong student body can prevent violence but he called on parents to help. "We need to get the parents more involved in their childs' lives so this kind of stuff won't happen," he said.

Carolyn Brooks, citizens' advisory council chairman, agreed. Parents need to monitor their kids' music and what they see on television, she said. "We need to take total responsibility for raising our children ourselves."

First Sgt. Randy Wilkinson of the Washington County Sheriff's Department assured that all county schools have police protection. "We will help you folks in any way we can," he said. Sgt. Mark Faith said there has been no increase in the number of police calls to schools this year.

The School Board organized its meeting Monday morning, so few parents were notified. An audience of about 25 turned out to hear the panel of eight speakers at the auditorium at the Central Office .

"All too often, school officials and others are tempted to believe 'it can't happen here.' We now know that's not true," said Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr.

"Washington County Public Schools are and have been engaged in a process to address this issue. We are also actively engaged in resolving each and every threat, rumor of a threat or violent act."

School Board members Andrew Humphreys and Edwin Hayes said they would not allow their own children to attend schools that are not safe.

"If there's any question in your mind about the safety in our schools, please call," said Humphreys.

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