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School visits show security has tightened

October 30, 2006|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WASHINGTON COUNTY - It was almost one month ago when several Herald-Mail reporters found that some Washington County schools lacked even basic security.

Last week, a reporter found proper safety measures in place at five county schools. A reporter visited North Hagerstown High School, E. Russell Hicks Middle School, Lincolnshire Elementary School, Williamsport High School and Eastern Elementary School on Oct. 26.

At a majority of the schools, the doors were locked and entry was granted by a person stationed at the entrance or after speaking with someone through an intercom system.

Washington County Public Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said the scenarios described were "absolutely" the way things should be working.

"School staffs understand what the school system is expecting," she said. "I'm pleased to hear it's being implemented. It is what I expect."

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The reporter walked around each of the schools, looking for obviously open doors and trying to open some of the doors. None were open, and all were locked.

At North Hagerstown High School, the reporter went to an entrance with an intercom and spoke with someone. That person instructed the reporter to go to the office.

The door did not open, then a student let the reporter in.

Principal Valerie Novak said students have been told not to let anyone into the building, but this situation was OK since the student had watched the reporter use the intercom system.

"That's absolutely how things should work," she said.

Novak said since The Herald-Mail's first report, security at her school has improved.

The situation was the same at E. Russell Hicks Middle School. The reporter was let into the school by someone stationed at the main entrance.

The reporter was given a visitor's badge and was made to write down her name, reason for visiting the school and time she arrived at the school.

Assistant Principal Deron Crawford said since the first report, there has been a big change in security at the middle school.

"All external doors are locked now," he said. "Visitors are directed to sign in."

Teachers and other personnel at the school have volunteered to sit at the door and monitor those coming in and out. On Thursday, a substitute teacher was at the door, Crawford said.

"The door is being manned right before school starts until students leave," he said.

A message was left at the school for Lincolnshire Elementary School's principal, Darlene Teach. The attempt to reach her was unsuccessful.

Washington County Board of Education President W. Edward Forrest said school officials have done a great job of implementing changes, some of which are temporary until cameras and other electronic devices are available.

At Williamsport High School, no doors were unlocked, and a reporter was let into the building by a woman sitting at the front entrance.

Assistant Principal James Aleshire said that officials moved a desk into the hall next to the main entrance, and there is always someone at the door.

"That is our practice now," he said. "I feel security is really good at our school."

Eastern Elementary School Assistant Principal Lisa Racine said school officials there understand that it will take time for every school in the county to have cameras and buzzers.

Racine said Eastern officials decided to have volunteers sit at the front entrance to monitor those coming into the building.

"We're fortunate to have parent volunteers who feel the same way about safety that we do," she said.

Adding to the school system's security planning, she said, will be the newly hired safety/security and risk manager, who was expected to start working full time today. A safety and security task force comprised of community volunteers also will be meeting within the next month, Morgan said.

"I'm glad we passed the test," she said. "I'm glad people are doing everything they can to ensure the safety and security of our students. It's our No. 1 priority, very close to an outstanding education for every student."

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