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School systems reviewing security measures in light of Fla. shooting

December 16, 2010|By The Herald-Mail staff

Following a nationally reported shooting Tuesday during a school board meeting in Panama City, Fla., school system officials across the Tri-State area weighed in Thursday on whether they feel security needs to be improved for public meetings.

In e-mails to The Herald-Mail, Washington County Public Schools System spokesman Richard Wright said staff members reviewed the Florida shooting and discussed current security protocol.

No changes were being discussed at this time, he said.

Clay Duke, described as having a bipolar disorder, held the Panama City School Board at gunpoint Tuesday before firing at board members. He did not hit anyone, and killed himself after exchanging gunfire with a security guard.

Washington County Board of Education President Wayne Ridenour said he learned of the Florida shooting from his wife after a county school board meeting Tuesday in Hagerstown.

Ridenour said school board members had not yet discussed whether security at board meetings needed to be improved.

The board held a closed session Thursday afternoon at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts to talk about the process of hiring a new schools superintendent, but board members did not talk about the Florida incident, he said.

"I hope it's not necessary to hire a security guard," Ridenour said.

"We'll do what we have to do to keep people safe. I imagine we'll talk about it a little bit and see what people want to do, if we even want to respond to it," he said.

"You hate to have to do something, to hire somebody. It's going to be up to the group what they think and whether we feel it's necessary to have security there at all times," Ridenour said.

Board work sessions and business meetings are open to the public and are typically held in the board auditorium at the central office off Commonwealth Avenue in Hagerstown.

The desire is to for those meetings to be "inviting," Ridenour said.

Visitors enter the central offices and sign in before heading into the auditorium. Certain parts of the building are closed off, but the auditorium is not unless it's locked down for a nonpublic meeting, Ridenour said.

"The thought of an armed guard or something there, that kind of bothers me a little bit," Ridenour said.

Pennsylvania

The Greencastle-Antrim School District in Franklin County, Pa., does not have a security guard on duty at its open meetings, Superintendent C. Gregory Hoover said.

"You think that doesn't happen here, but it can. ... I'm not sure how we'd handle it," he said.

Hoover said he was saddened by the situation and reflected on the idea it could happen anywhere.

"It causes you to stop and think that you're susceptible to that," he said.

Greencastle-Antrim hasn't had problems with unruliness at meetings, Hoover said.

"We've had meetings with large crowds, but they've been civil," he said.

Waynesboro Area School Board President Ed Wilson said he's never asked for security or police during meetings. He's served on the board three years.

"We don't have a need to have armed guards," he said.

Wilson said the incident in Florida was sad, but he doesn't think it will be repeated across the country.

West Virginia

In light of the Florida shooting, Berkeley County (W.Va.) Schools Superintendent Manny P. Arvon said he expected the school system to review security measures.

"We have measures in place to protect the board room that I'm not going to reveal," Arvon said.

Arvon said he was pleased with the addition of police officers at each of the high schools and measures taken by the state to generally help school districts improve campus security.

After the Columbine High School massacre, "we all did things a little differently," Arvon said.

"When you have open, public meetings, they're just that — open, public meetings," Arvon said of the difficulty posed with ensuring safety.

Arvon said he was concerned that the media attention that the Florida "episode" was getting could prompt others to act out elsewhere.

In his tenure, Arvon recalled that the school district has requested police officers for student disciplinary hearings on one or two occasions, but generally not for school board meetings.

Staff Writers Julie E. Greene, Matthew Umstead and Jennifer Fitch contributed to this story.

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