The war in the Mideast has school officials prepared to tighten security in county schools and institute war-level safety drills at schools on the grounds of Fort Meade.
For several hours today, access was scheduled to be limited to three entrance checkpoints, as the Army base positions itself for a heightened phase of security, spokesman Don McClow said yesterday. The heightened security, which may involve identification checks, is likely to cause delays.
Today's drill was planned before the United States began bombing Iraq at approximately 7 p.m. Eastern time last night. Assistant Superintendent Ron Beckett said last night that he assumed the heightened security would become standard operating procedure but that he was awaiting word from officials at Fort Meade.
Earlier in the day, Fort Meade officials downplayed the effect heightened security should have on schools within the base.
"As part of the exercise we are closing some of the gates, but it shouldn't be any disruption in school service at all," McClow said. "People will still be able to get on thepost. It is just a test and is one of many phases of a plan we have.We have a very extensive plan that covers all of the different levels of threat."
Access to the base will be limited to entrances at Rockenbach Road off Route 175, Mapes Avenue off Route 175 and Mapes Avenue off Route 32.
Principals at Meade Senior High, MacArthur Middle and several elementary schools on the Fort Meade grounds have been notified of possible delays for buses transporting students on to the base.
Beckett said he was working with officials at the base to reduce delays for school buses by providing identification and license information for drivers and buses.
"We are trying to avoid delays at the gate," Beckett said. "There would likely be some until people get a feel for the adjustment. The Department of Defense will determine the level of security implementation. We are prepared to do whatwe need to immediately. We are waiting direction from the Army."
Of the county's 65,000 students, 5,157 children of military personnel live on or near either Fort Meade or the Naval Academy.
In a memo, school principals were warned Tuesday to direct all media calls regarding the Mideast crisis to the Board of Education, where the superintendent's Cabinet has been meeting daily behind closed doors to develop a system wide defensive strategy.
Beckett, who is responsible for school security, issued a memo to principals yesterday asking thatall side doors be locked and teachers and administrators be wary of strangers and unusual packages. Teachers, custodians and other staff are required to display their identification cards.
"We are not anticipating any problem," Beckett said. "It just pays to be prudent inthese uncertain times. We are just reminding principals of security practices and procedures already in place.
"We are reminding them to make sure visitors report to the office and if staff sees a strange person, to direct them to the office, and to be more aware of strange packages or parcels. We are concerned about all the schools, but since the Naval Academy and Fort Meade are tightening security, we wanted to take the extra measures."
Ken Lawson, assistant superintendent for student support services, is dealing more with students' individual needs. Crisis intervention teams of pupil personnel workers and school psychologists are prepared to go to schools needing additional help addressing student needs.
Lawson said the school system isprepared to seek help from county and private agencies.
"If it goes beyond the level individual schools and the Crisis Intervention Team can handle, we will have to look to outside agencies for support, including the (county) Health Department and private-care psychologists and psychiatrists," Lawson said.
"I'm working on a packet reminding (schools) of some of the realities we are now facing and making suggestions for dealing with them, including casualties," he said.
Cries for help and support from the schools are coming from parents,too, who themselves are having difficulty dealing with stress and depression or who face difficulty getting their children to talk about their feelings.
Already, some parent support groups are being formed at schools on Fort Meade to help parents air their concerns. They also are being referred to family services offered on the base.
"Parents are faced with suddenly being the sole provider," Lawson said."One of our dilemmas is that our primary responsibility continues tobe teaching. In order to be successful in school, we also have to help deal with the emotional issues. To an extent, we can try to help families."