What happened at Sandy Hook on Dec. 14 — when gunman Adam Lanza overcame a security system, shooting out glass near the school entrance, police said, before killing 20 children and six staff members — sent the nation reeling and brought new attention to school entry points.
Across the Washington region, officials in many school systems — including those of the District and Fairfax, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties — say they have strong practices already in place and are taking a close look for areas of improvement.
But the aftermath of the Connecticut tragedy has spotlighted inconsistencies at schools, funding concerns and a heightened interest in basic security measures, even if they would not prevent an attack like the one at Sandy Hook.
In Virginia, 2012 data show that controlled access systems are in place at 59 percent of elementary schools, 51 percent of middle schools and 37 percent of high schools.
Seventy-three percent of schools said they lock up during school hours, and 46 percent said they had someone posted at the front entrance to ensure that visitors check in. Just more than half of schools said all classroom doors could be locked from inside and outside. Maryland and D.C. officials said they could not provide similar figures last week.
“We just have to do everything possible . . . and just say a prayer,” said Montgomery County Board of Education member Patricia O’Neill (Bethesda-Chevy Chase) moments before a January vote to speed up a $364,000 project to install buzz-in systems, with exterior cameras and intercoms, at a final group of elementary schools.
In Maryland, Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) has proposed spending $25 million in construction money in the coming year to tighten physical security at public schools, with cameras at entrances, automatically locking doors, shatterproof glass and buzzer entrance systems.
“A lot of what we’re doing is strengthening what’s already in place,” said State Superintendent Lillian M. Lowery, who noted that Maryland is reviewing every district’s emergency plans while seeking best practices and looking to “put in as many safeguards as possible.”
In Virginia, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) created a school safety task force that is expected to issue a set of recommendations Thursday.
At a Jan. 16 public meeting about security in Rockville, the father of a kindergartner focused on beefing up security at elementary schools. The mother of a high-schooler asked about doors near portable classroom trailers.