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Police officers visit county schools to reassure students, parents

December 17, 2012|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com
  • Hagerstown Police Department School Resource Officer Heather Aleshire speaks with school administration via walky-talky Monday afternoon outside Antietam Academy in Hagerstown's South End.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

WASHINGTON COUNTY — The Washington County Sheriff’s Office and Hagerstown Police Department sent officers to several public schools Monday to reassure school communities three days after one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history occurred in Newtown, Conn.

“Just to give a little feeling of comfort to the kids and parents and teachers,” said Sheriff Douglas W. Mullendore, who visited Williamsport Elementary on Monday.

Mullendore said there were too many schools to get to every one in the county, but they visited as many as they could during the morning as students were dropped off and planned the same for the afternoon as children were picked up.

Officers also walked through schools throughout the day, he said.

Police from the sheriff’s department will continue to visit community schools the next few days before students go on holiday break, Mullendore said. Public schools will be closed Dec. 24 through Jan. 1 for the winter break.

Hagerstown Police Capt. Mark Holtzman, the acting police chief, said there was an officer at each of the city’s seven public elementary schools Monday morning as students were dropped off for the day. Officers checked on the schools during the day.

Hagerstown police will continue periodic checks of city schools, elementary through high schools, this week, Holtzman said.

On Friday, a shooter killed 20 children and six adults, as well as himself, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

When Washington County Public Schools officials heard about the incident, they began talking about what would be an appropriate response for the local school district, Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox said Monday.

At no point was closing schools Monday considered, Wilcox said.

Wilcox and senior staff met at the Commonwealth Avenue administrative center Sunday to draft a message to parents, he said. That audio message was sent to parents’ and legal guardians’ phones through the school system’s Alert Now system around 6 p.m. Sunday, he said.

In the audio message, Wilcox tells parents and guardians that “we will do everything within our power to keep your children safe. Their safety is our highest and first priority.”

Wilcox tells parents he has asked principals to review safety procedures with faculty and staff, to redouble efforts to monitor the comings and goings of visitors, and “to speak frankly with the adults in their building about alerting us to any situation in their life or in the lives of the others in the community that could spill over into our school day.”

Wilcox asks parents and legal guardians, in the message, to stay vigilant and alert school officials to any situation that requires school officials’ attention and, perhaps, a heightened sense of security.

Wilcox emailed a letter to school principals outlining expectations, that they review security procedures and the various school system drills, he said.

Wilcox said he wanted to make sure the training the school system was supposed to have done had been done. It has, he said.

Wilcox said his letter to school principals was posted on an internal My Big Campus blog website Sunday so any employees registered to My Big Campus could read it.

School system spokesman Richard Wright said counseling advice was posted on the school system’s website Sunday as well.

That advice, from the National Association of School Psychologists, is available at www.wcps.k12.md.us/news/news_highlights/2012/connecticut.html.

Steve Ganley, the school system’s safety and security manager, spoke with local police Sunday to confirm police would increase their visibility at school campuses this week, Wilcox said.

Wilcox said he received emails from some parents stating they were comforted Monday by seeing law enforcement at school campuses.

Wilcox said he expected to meet with local police this week to talk “about creating something a little more sustainable.”

Asked if he wanted more school resource officers, Wilcox said, “I think we have a nice balance of school resource officers.”

The school system has seven school resource officers, who are sworn police officers and carry a firearm.

According to Mullendore and Holtzman, there is a resource officer assigned to North Hagerstown High, Northern Middle and Fountaindale Elementary; South Hagerstown High, E. Russell Hicks Middle and Emma K. Doub Elementary; Antietam Academy and Washington County Technical High; Western Heights Middle, Salem Avenue Elementary and Winter Street Elementary; the Williamsport school complex and its feeder schools; the Boonsboro school complex and its feeder schools; and the Smithsburg school complex and its feeder schools.

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