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Schools launch new safety measures

August 25, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

When Washington County schools open Monday, measures intended to make classrooms safe will be in place, including some that are new this year.

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Every principal will have a cellular telephone and the Central Office on Commonwealth Avenue has a safety hotline that tipsters can call to report potential threats to safety.

Each school has an emergency plan and all employees soon may be wearing identification badges.

The school system was already secure, but personnel have a heightened awareness, according to Supervisor of Pupil Personnel and Guidance Joe Millward.

"I think it's as safe as it has always been. I think we're a little better prepared," said Millward, chairman of the Safe Schools Committee formed in June 1998 to examine security issues.

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The Littleton, Colo., rampage in April and other incidents of student violence made security a hot-button issue for all schools last year. Copycat threats became a nationwide phenomenon, further frightening communities.

The Washington County Board of Education established a safety hotline at 301-766-8700. It is intended to give residents a way to give anonymous information about potential problems.

A recorded voice greets callers, but messages are checked at least twice every day, Executive Director of Support Services William McKinley said.

All high school principals already had cell phones last year, but the School Board ordered 53 more for other administrators on April 30. The phones are intended to help them communicate should an emergency situation arise.

Most schools already had emergency plans, but all are now required to have in place such plans that spell out what each employee must do in a crisis, Millward said.

A crisis team of counselors and teachers was formed in 1986 to respond to any county school. The Safe Schools Committee recently recommended creating teams at each school and the School Board is expected to discuss the proposal next month.

Principals will spell out their schools' disciplinary policy directly to students and will provide written copies as well, McKinley said. They also are letting students know lockers are school property and may be searched at any time.

Sam's Club, Wal-Mart and other local businesses are raising money to donate video surveillance cameras to the high schools. McKinley said the companies expect to raise enough funds to buy sets of four for the schools by the end of October.

The School Board is reviewing bids for a computer system that will create badges for all employees. Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr. said the tags will help identify nonemployees inside school buildings.

Last week, school administrators watched as Maryland State Police held a hostage-taking simulation at Clear Spring High School. Principal John Peckyno participated in the training exercise with two other employees.

Maryland on Tuesday announced new school safety measures including two Washington County already had in place. For example, the Maryland State Board of Education is requiring each jurisdiction to develop crisis plans for each school.

The state's Safe School Interagency Steering Committee also directed state police to create safety hotlines, and the Maryland State Board of Education is establishing a uniform school incident reporting system with law enforcement agencies statewide.

"As we further enhance safety in our schools, we need to strike the right balance between responsible precautions and paranoia," said Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in a prepared statement.

"Gov. Glendening and I believe we should open our school doors not with fear or dread, but rather with a sense of excitement and purpose," she said in the statement.

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