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Extra safety force in schools today

May 02, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

Hundreds of extra eyes and ears will be in Washington County Schools today as parents, police and school staff provide more security in an atmosphere of heightened tension.

[cont. from front page]

The Washington County Board of Education is sending most of its Central Office employees out to schools, including pupil personnel workers and psychologists, according to Director of Secondary Education Boyd Michael III.

More than 50 retired and current employees are expected to join parent volunteers to watch, listen and reassure students troubled by vague rumors of violence.

The School Board is taking unusual precautions because copycat incidents and threats became prevalent in the aftermath of last month's Littleton, Colo., shooting.

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Before students arrive this morning, bomb-sniffing dogs will sweep the halls of North Hagerstown High School. There is no specific threat of danger, but the School Board is reacting to a heightened sense of fear, according to Michael.

North High had a high absentee rate Friday and it appears that is where the fear is focused, he said.

Principal David Reeder urged parents not to keep their children from attending. "Schools are probably one of the safest places they can send their kids," he said Sunday.

"Stay calm to support the education process," he said. "You don't get an education by staying out of school.

"Living in fear is no way to live."

Principals have been instructed to double-check their security systems and walk through each school with a janitor this morning, according to Michael. Police officers will be at most schools and on patrol throughout the day.

Hagerstown City Police are dedicating five officers to the effort, placing one in each high school and middle school in the city, according to Sgt. Mark Renner. The officers will spend the entire day at the schools, he said.

Sgt. Louis Mastiano would not say how many Maryland State Police troopers will be in schools today. It will depend on available manpower, he said.

The patrols will be frequent and may include a K-9 unit.

"They will be in and out all day," he said.

Sheriff's deputies will also patrol county schools, but the Washington County Sheriff's Department declined to specify how many officers will be sent.

On Friday, two Alternative School students were arrested for allegedly making violent threats and a 14-year-old North High student was arrested for bringing a knife to school.

They join a large group of school kids in the region arrested in the two weeks since the Colorado shooting. While there have been several bogus threats and hoaxes, the School Board is not taking any of them lightly.

"Rumors and actions are being taken very seriously," said Superintendent of Schools Herman G. Bartlett Jr. "We are reacting to those threats very seriously."

The School Board has established a safety hotline. Parents can call (301) 766-8700 to relay concerns or leave messages about specific rumors. The system is checked daily.

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