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Safety by Design

President Bush with Columbine High School massacre survivor Craig Scott after a one-day summit on school violence last month in Chevy Chase.
President Bush with Columbine High School massacre survivor Craig Scott after a one-day summit on school violence last month in Chevy Chase. (By Charles Dharapak -- Associated Press)

"There's no fail-safe, 100 percent method,'' said Wayde B. Byard, spokesman for the Loudoun County public school system. "But the human element is the biggest part. You have to keep your eyes open.''

Byard said it is not just Loudoun's new campuses that boast upgraded safety features. The system also has renovated some of its 1970s-era schools to improve previously blocked sightlines and to enclose walkways.

At Clarksburg High, visitors enter through a central entrance, which takes them by the main office. If they ignore the sign that asks them to check in, staff need only look through the bank of windows to monitor comings and goings.

"We're trying to balance friendliness with being safe,'' Principal Koutsos said.

If someone slips by the main office, there is a good chance he will be spotted by the security team leader, whose giant office window looks out in the main hallway. The school's long hallways are designed for smooth traffic flow but also so they can be easily monitored by staff posted in strategic locations. Doors around the rest of the building allow people to leave but not enter the school.

In Prince George's County, similar principles are used at Dr. Henry A. Wise Jr. High, which opened in August. Visitors enter a lobby in front of the main office before they can approach any classrooms.

And at some Montgomery campuses, architects even have rethought bathroom design. At Great Seneca Creek Elementary, bathrooms have been built to make it easier for teachers to keep track of students. Boys and girls rooms are back-to-back, with sinks in a space outside the bathrooms. A teacher standing in the hallway can see into both restrooms without compromising students' privacy.

But attention spans are short, and architects say it is important that the conversation about school safety continues after headlines about the incidents in Pennsylvania and Colorado have faded.

"Part of my concern is that there's never enough,'' Sims said. "There are a lot of schools that should be commended, but a lot of existing schools need money to be put into them to make them right. It's not that complex.''


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