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Report Finds Flaws in D.C. Schools' Security

Campus Visits Reveal Unlocked Doors, Too Few Guards

By Valerie Strauss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 14, 2004; Page B01

District public schools have serious security weaknesses, including unguarded doors, broken surveillance equipment and too few guards, according to a D.C. inspector general's report released yesterday.

The report, which was based on visits to 15 elementary, middle and high schools, also concluded that school officials have failed to create a comprehensive security plan or conduct risk assessments to address the needs of each school.


Interim Superintendent Robert C. Rice promised changes.

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"The District's schools remain vulnerable to planned or random acts of violence that could otherwise be reduced through improved security measures and the implementation of sound policy guidelines," the report says.

The study was part of a series of reports on school security being conducted by the inspector general's office. Last week, the agency issued an audit that said the school system had failed to keep adequate records about crimes on school grounds.

Among the recommendations in yesterday's report was that school officials coordinate with D.C. police, fire and emergency medical personnel to fix inoperative surveillance equipment and secure entry doors at schools.

Clifford B. Janey, who is scheduled to officially start his job as D.C. school superintendent tomorrow, said security will be a top focus of his administration.

In a written response to the inspector general's report, Interim Superintendent Robert C. Rice said that he accepted the report's recommendations and that school officials would, among other responses, convene a task force to develop a comprehensive security plan; collaborate with D.C. police, fire and emergency medical personnel to address problems involving entry doors; and identify and replace broken surveillance equipment and install such equipment where needed.

This month, the school system's security director, Theodore C. Tuckson, and D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey announced details of a reorganization that will shift the main responsibility for security from the school system to police to implement legislation passed by the D.C. Council.

Yesterday's report says schools have far too many unlocked and unguarded entry doors. For example, Wilson Senior High, one of the city's largest high schools, has two buildings with 32 entrances that include 60 or more doors on the ground and basement levels, the report says. It says most of those doors were unguarded and unmonitored, and most lacked an audible alarm.

"Trespassers have relatively easy access to many District schools, student truancy continues, and concealed weapons can often be brought inside the schools undetected," the study says.

Principals told the auditors that their students were vulnerable because there were too few security guards, many of whom were poorly trained and sometimes fraternized too much with students. Requests for additional security went unanswered, the report says.

Banneker Academic High School Principal Patricia Tucker said in an interview that two security guards are assigned to her school of more than 400 students and that their shifts do not fully cover the time students are at school.

"I don't think that is adequate," she said, adding that they "definitely need to do better training of the people they hire."

Under the reorganization plan announced by Tuckson and Ramsey, police will provide 99 school resource officers this school year, compared with 72 last year, and the number of police supervisors assigned to the schools will increase from five to 14. The school system's contract with Watkins Security Agency, the company that provides security guards, expires in January, and Ramsey said a different company or city employees might be hired to replace Watkins.

The report, conducted by William J. DiVello and overseen by Interim Inspector General Austin A. Andersen, involved visits to nine high schools -- Anacostia, Cardozo, Roosevelt, Banneker, Wilson, Coolidge, Ballou, Spingarn and Woodson. The auditors went to three junior high schools -- Johnson, Deal and Francis -- as well as Lincoln Middle School, Hart Middle School and Key Elementary School.


© 2004 The Washington Post Company


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