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Board's plan would add to school security

April 04, 2001

Board's plan would add to school security



By TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

The Washington County Board of Education hopes to prevent student violence by promoting its safe schools plan to staff and parents, providing intervention to students and tightening security in its buildings.

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Carol Mowen, the board's public information officer, said board staff members have suggested hiring a security officer to review and develop safety plans. Staff will also consider whether the school system can obtain grants to fund school resource officers.

She said the security officer would work out of the central office, whereas school resource officers would be local police officers.

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"They're definitely on top of security issues," Mowen said.

Between March 1 and March 28, the school system had 59 incidents involving threats of violence. Police were called 53 times, and 50 students were suspended as a result of the incidents.

Mowen said that while those 50 students make up less than 1 percent of the school system's total enrollment of 19,353, administrators take the threats seriously.

"Whether we think it might be a joke or not, that's going to show up on the incident report," she said. "We're going to take any and all inappropriate language seriously."

Once a threat is expressed, the threatening student is sent immediately to the principal, who determines whether the action was a threat of violence, assaultive behavior or if the student was found with a weapon. If so, school officials call police and take any other appropriate action necessary, Mowen said.

An administrator then decides what kind of disciplinary action should be taken, such as suspension. The superintendent has the authority to expel a student.

Martha Roulette, director of student services, said the schools provide intervention to all students who make threats.

"As a school system, we still need to educate a child and intervene," she said.

Mowen said intervention is carried out by the school's Student Services Team. The team can consist of assistant principals, a school nurse or health assistant, guidance counselor, pupil personnel worker and, in some instances, a mental health professional.

According to board documents, each school has already received two walkie talkies and one cell phone for better communication. Some schools have also purchased additional radios and phones.

The central Board of Education office will have surveillance cameras at the front entrance, planetarium entrance, technology entrance and hallway near the superintendent's office, according to a recommendation from the Safe Schools Work Group.

Access to the building will also be limited to designated doors, while the rest will be locked. Central office staff will be required to wear badges at all times.

William McKinley, the board's executive director of support services, said "irate" people have walked into the central office unannounced and others have entered the building and stolen items.

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