Prince George’s County Council reviews school safety measures
By Ovetta Wiggins,
Prince George’s County public school officials are reassessing security procedures and have recommended several short-term measures, including systemwide lockdown drills, following last month’s shooting rampage at a Connecticut elementary school that left 20 children dead.
“The shooting at Sandy Hook [school] shook the consciousness of the nation, and, as a result, we looked at some of the things we were doing,” Michael Blow, the director of security services for the school system, told members of the County Council during a briefing Tuesday.
Blow said that in the short term, security officials will look at implementing a plan for “100 percent identification, 100 percent of the time” for every person entering schools, a minimum of two large-scale drills each year with the police and fire departments, and police patrols of elementary schools.
A lockdown drill will be held at schools next month and an active-shooter drill will take place in April.
Long-term recommendations will be presented to the Board of Education on Feb. 7, Blow said.
Council member Ingrid Turner (D-Bowie) said it is important that the school system address the ease with which visitors appear to enter school buildings unnoticed.
“The mere fact that I can walk up to a school without anybody seeing me and saying something to me” is a problem, she said.
Blow said he was aware of the problems. Shortly after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Blow said, members of his department made unannounced visits to schools to see how long it took for someone to “challenge” their presence. Security assessments were conducted on the spot at the schools where no questions were asked.
“We know we have schools where we are not doing that,” Blow said.
School officials said they are considering a proposal that would place “greeters” at front doors to guide visitors to offices. A. Duane Arbogast, acting deputy superintendent for academics, told the panel that he would like to see cameras and buzzers at every elementary school.
Council member Mary Lehman (D-Laurel) said she does not recall any of her children participating in lockdown drills and asked how the school system plans to prepare the staff and students for an emergency and for the drills.
Lehman recalled how survivors of the Sandy Hook shootings talked about placing construction paper over the windows of their doors to keep gunman Adam Lanza out.
Blow said teachers and principals will receive training from videos that explain how the drills will be conducted. In addition to securing school buildings, he said plans need to be established for trailers that contain classrooms.
The recommendations from Blow were part of an overall discussion about school safety that included a lengthy presentation and questions about the policy and procedures used to address bullying.
Council members also raised questions about the number of bullying reports, training teachers to deal with bullying and the use of cameras on school buses to identify bullying.
The hearing was organized after a 7-year-old student tearfully told the council last week about being bullied on a school bus.
His father expressed his frustration about not receiving a proper response from the school system.
Arbogast said Alvin Crawley, the interim superintendent, has made customer service a top priority of his administration.