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County schools have buzzers, access cards

March 26, 2007|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WASHINGTON COUNTY

With about 120 students learning in portable classrooms, Funkstown Elementary School Principal Susan Burger said a fence that encloses those classes was needed to keep students safe.

The students, who are mostly first- and second-graders, in the school's seven portable classrooms go into the main building to use the restroom and to eat lunch.

"It's absolutely helpful," Burger said of the 6-foot-tall chain-link fence. "And it's also around our playground area, which makes recess a little more comfortable for everyone. It just surrounds the children with a fence and makes everyone safer. We're very secure now."

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Steve Ganley, Washington County Public Schools safety and security specialist/risk manager, said the fencing at Funkstown Elementary was installed in the past several months and is one of several major security projects completed in the county's schools this year.

Most were recommended by a safety and security task force that met late last year.

Every public school is equipped with a buzzer and swipe-card access system at the front entrances, Ganley said. Video monitoring also is available so visitors can be seen and heard before entering the schools.

The access card reader, buzzer equipment and additional hardware cost $2,500 per school (about $100,000 countywide), he said. About $900 per school (about $35,000 countywide) was spent on a video communication phone for the main offices.

Boonsboro Middle School Principal Paul Engle said that visitors to his school must identify themselves and state their purpose for being at the school before they are admitted. Visitors go directly to the school's main office, where they sign in and are given a visitor's pass.

This is the common procedure at other schools.

"Each school office is equipped with a video-monitoring phone, which allows the staff member the ability to see who is entering the school as well as communicate with them before opening the door," Ganley said.

Additional access card systems are being installed at other doors for teachers who take students outside for recess or fire drills.

"It's so they don't have to go around to the front door," he said.

All exterior doors at each school are locked, and Ganley said that those doors are checked throughout the day. Ganley said there are no current projects in place to provide schools with enclosed fencing around their portable classrooms. Funkstown Elementary was a priority because the school enrolls only prekindergarten students through second-graders. At other schools, it is typically fourth- and fifth-graders using the portable classrooms.

While focusing on safety and security in the county's schools, Ganley said officials also are determined to make them welcoming environments for students, parents and visitors.

"We didn't want it to turn into a prison atmosphere," he said.

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