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Washington County schools plan security upgrades

October 07, 2006|By PEPPER BALLARD

In light of "recent incidents nationwide," Washington County Public Schools plans to use $200,000 in emergency facilities funds to install key card entry systems and camera systems at all county schools, Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said Friday.

In a letter to the editor dated Friday ? a day after reporters for The Herald-Mail tested security at five county schools ? Morgan wrote that, in "light of recent incidents, we will take immediate steps to increase the limiting of access to all schools in Washington County."

On Friday, Morgan said she was not referring to reporters who were able to walk through schools for up to 20 minutes unnoticed, but instead to "recent incidents that have occurred nationwide," such as school shootings in Colorado, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

"We're going to have, very soon, people who are going to be stationed at front doors, getting (visitors) to sign in," Morgan said.

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Morgan said the newspaper's investigation on school safety was "factored in," but was not what prompted the school system's decision to install the security systems.

Morgan wrote in her letter to the editor, which is to be published Sunday: "Over the last several years, the system has created a position of safety and security manager, expanded partnerships with safety, security and law enforcement agencies, put in place emergency response teams, trained all administrative personnel in emergency management systems and spent in excess of $500,000 in taxpayer dollars for this purpose in the last two budget years alone."

Washington County Public Schools spokeswoman Carol Mowen said the safety and security manager position has been vacant, but school officials have interviewed candidates and hope to fill the position soon.

Out of 43 schools in the county, not counting extra facilities such as Antietam Academy and Fairview Outdoor Education Center, "about 20 schools have some type of key-card access," Mowen said.

She said that two schools ? North Hagerstown High School and Western Heights Middle School ? have a buzzer system at their main entrances, requiring a visitor to buzz for entry.

Schools that have multiple buildings had been targeted for the first key-card entry systems, she said.

Morgan said school officials will meet next week to prioritize the order in which schools will receive the new systems.

Morgan said security systems already have been ordered for Greenbrier, Funkstown and Paramount elementary schools, and for Marshall Street School.

Mowen said the school system will spend about $200,000 out of the system's emergency facilities funds over the next "several months" to install the security systems at all schools.

The idea to install such systems at each school has been discussed for "a while," Mowen said. A meeting on the security systems had been planned before reporters roamed Thursday through county schools, Morgan said.

Morgan said the meeting was planned "before I got the call that reporters were visiting schools."

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