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Dozens meet to improve county schools' security

November 07, 2006|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HAGERSTOWN - Key card entry.

Requiring photo identification.

Chain-link fences.

The elimination of portable classrooms.

These were just a few of the ideas suggested Monday during the first meeting of the school security cross-functional team. The group of about 50 Washington County Public Schools' employees, concerned parents, government employees, law enforcement officers and security specialists met for about two hours.

The group is tasked with brainstorming ways to improve security at the county's schools and prioritizing the school system's security needs.

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"I count this as probably one of the more important things we're going to do this year," Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said.

Morgan said officials have focused mostly on internal security. While internal security was discussed at the meeting, the volunteers focused mostly on making sure that unwanted people are unable to come into the schools and have access to students and staff.

The volunteers were given an overview of school security and split into five groups to discuss five specific topics they decided should be priorities: public access to schools, school facility security systems, portable classrooms, internal school violence and school resource officers.

Newly appointed safety/security and risk manager Steven L. Ganley said he was pleased with the first task force meeting.

"There were several ideas here that I think can be beneficial," Ganley said.

Jeff Ortiz of Hagerstown said he volunteered to be a member of the task force because he is a concerned parent. He has an elementary school student in Washington County and said he was interested in helping brainstorm ideas to better protect his child and others.

Greg Murray of Smithsburg said he is also is a concerned parent, with three children in the school system. He is employed with county government.

"We're seeing what can happen, and then preventing that from happening," he said.

After the groups discussed each topic, they presented their ideas to the team. The volunteers seemed to agree that people should not enter the school buildings without proper identification. Doors should be locked, and some precautions should be taken with portable classrooms.

Ideas like using swipe cards to enter buildings also were discussed.

Group members agreed that the school system's two school resource officers should not be stationed at front doors monitoring visitors.

Hagerstown Police Officer and resource officer Heather Albowicz is a member of the task force. She said her role is to be a presence at North Hagerstown High School and the other North End schools she patrols.

Morgan said she believes the task force as it exists now will be a short-term solution. Later, committees might be formed from the current group.

The next meeting will be Nov. 15, and officials said the ideas generated at Monday's meeting will be put into an action list that would include ideas that can be implemented immediately.

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