School security, zoning and why we need lots of water

October 11, 2006|by BOB MAGINNIS

Odds and ends from a columnist's notebook:

· On the morning of Monday, Oct. 2, a deranged man went to a one-room Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pa., where he took 10 girls hostage, killing five and seriously wounding the others.

At 5:05 p.m. that day, JoEtta Palkovitz-Brown, the Washington County school system's assistant superintendent for elementary education sent out an e-mail to all principals, warning them to be vigilant.

Here's the text:

"Given the national news reports focused on school shootings across the country, please ensure that you and your staff continue to be ever vigilant in maintaining a safe, secure environment.


"Please make sure that your school safety plans have been updated, drills have been and continue to be held, all visitiors are signing in and out of the building, the school safety team has met, and only one entrance is unlocked.

"One of the greatest challenges this time of year with the gorgeous fall weather is to ensure that all outside doors and entrances are locked and secured with only one entry point unlocked. (emphasis added.)

"We will be meeting with law enforcement agencies to discuss additional patrols, stopping in the main office when time allows, and providing a visible presence when and where possible.

"Thank you for your efforts in providing a safe environment for students and staff."

(signed) Jo

Three minutes later, Donna Hanlin, assistant superintendent for secondary instruction, sent a similar e-mail to principals under her supervision.

On Thursday, reporters from The Herald-Mail visited a number of schools in Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia and found that security was not as tight as it should have been.

Herald-Mail reporters spent more than 15 minutes walking unchallenged through North Hagerstown High School, Boonsboro and E. Russell Hicks middle schools and Lincolnshire Elementary School.

(Catch of the week has to go to the school secretary at Conococheague Elementary School, who stopped reporter Don Aines after he was inside that building for only 15 seconds.)

But at other schools, where principals had been warned - and might even have expected an in-house test of their security - adminstrators either didn't get the e-mails, or didn't follow up.

Yesterday, I asked Palkovitz-Brown whether there would be any repercussions. Her response was guarded, not surprising given that this is a personnel matter.

"Principals have been made aware of the expectations as far as safety is concerned. We have followed up with individual schools where security was found to be lax," she said.

Additional security measures have been put in place in the schools as of Tuesday, she said, adding that all principals have been contacted to "emphasize what 'vigilant' and 'diligent' mean."

· Tom Firey, a Washington County native who now works for the Cato Institute, took The Herald-Mail to task this past Sunday for an Aug. 17 editorial in regard to the rural rezoning.

Was it fair to take the development rights without any compensation? No, but the state was never going to allow the continued development of agricultural land on a one-house-per-acre basis.

State officials stayed in the background, but had the rezoning plan failed, you can bet that they would have delivered the message that money for schools roads, etc., would not be forthcoming under the old formula.

· A reader called to ask why officials are advising citizens to stock up on water and have battery-powered devices to prepare for a flu pandemic. Do they expect the power to go off, she asked.

Rod McRae, the public information officer for the Washington County Health Depoartment, offered this:

"The reason that we make these recommendations is that there is some concern that in the event of a widespread, serious outbreak there may be a significant reduction in the available workforce. Some estimates range as high as 40 percent for periods of time. Individuals will be ill and some will be tending the ill.

"The advice to store water and battery powered radios/flashlights is part of our overall recommendations for any family, not just in the event of pandemic flu, but also for 'normal' emergency planning for such things as ice storms, hurricanes, exceptionally heavy snows, etc, where the whole community may not be as adversely affected, but where sections of the community may find themselves without services."

Thanks, Rod.

· On Saturday, Oct. 14, Mountainside Gardens in Boonsboro will hold a mum and barbecue sale to benefit Devin Fales, an 8-year-old Keedysville boy with Fanconi anemia, which could turn into cancer if he doesn't have a bone-marrow transplant.

Can't attend? Then you may go to any branch of Hagerstown Trust and contribute to the First Hose of Boonsboro/Devin Fales Benefit Account, No. 155007179.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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