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Reporters put school security to test

October 06, 2006

A reporter entered a Washington County high school Thursday through a back door and crossed the gymnasium where a class was in progress. She walked through the cafeteria three times while students were having lunch. She wandered through the school for 24 minutes. No one ever stopped her. No one ever questioned her.

After three school shootings in less than two weeks across the country, The Herald-Mail wondered about the security of schools in the Tri-State area.

The newspaper sent nine reporters to nine schools in its readership area Thursday. Five reporters went to Washington County public schools, two reporters went to West Virginia high schools and two reporters went to public schools in Franklin County, Pa.

In all but one case, reporters were able to enter or could have entered schools unnoticed or unquestioned. In all but three cases, reporters spent at least 15 minutes in the schools, wandering the hallways and public areas.

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In the Eastern Panhandle, W.Va., high schools, reporters passed teachers and other school employees while they walked the halls. In both cases, the reporters were never stopped and never asked any questions.

At a Waynesboro, Pa., elementary school, a reporter checked a side door and found it unlocked. He opened the door and looked down a hallway, where he saw no one. The reporter closed the door and went to the front entrance. The front door was locked and visitors had to press a buzzer to gain entry.

Reporters sent to schools in Pennsylvania, where state laws on trespassing are more stringent than in West Virginia or Maryland, were told to look for unlocked doors but not to enter the school through them.

The reporters visiting Maryland and West Virginia schools were given specific instructions not to enter classrooms. They were told by editors that they could go into gymnasiums, cafeterias, media centers, bathrooms and auditoriums. Reporters also were told to roam the schools for about 20 minutes or until they were stopped.

In three schools in Washington County, reporters went to the school office and asked for the principal after more than 20 minutes in the building. One reporter walked around in a Washington County middle school for 16 minutes before someone asked if she could be helped.

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