County group outlines steps for school safety More officers, crisis drills recommended to prevent and respond to violence

November 25, 1998|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore County task force recommended a series of steps last night to improve how the school system prevents and responds to violence, including additional police officers in schools, more alternative programs for misbehaving students and regular crisis drills.

The report, given to the county school board during its meeting BTC in Towson, called for better training for teachers and principals in managing student behavior.

"In Baltimore County, we believe our schools are safe, and we want them to remain that way," said Patsy J. Holmes, coordinator of the Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program for the county.

The Acts and Threats of Violence Task Force was appointed over the summer by Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione after fatal school shootings in Arkansas, Oregon and Pennsylvania.

Marchione said he heard many questions about the county's policies after the shootings, prompting him to ask the panel to look only at serious threats and violence associated with such weapons as guns and knives.

The task force included principals, teachers, parents, students and representatives from several county agencies.

The school board did not take any action on the task force report last night, but board members seemed to embrace most of the two dozen recommendations.

"It seems that most of this is good common sense," said board member Sanford V. Teplitzky.

Many of the group's recommendations focus on improving the ways school staff identify potentially violent situations and their response when such incidents occur.

For example, the task force called for all schools to conduct crisis drills at least twice a year. Such drills would include build- ingwide lockdowns.

The district also should create an alternative school for disruptive elementary school students and a program for the most troubled and violent secondary school students, the task force said.

Schools and county agencies should also communicate better about students -- particularly those who are the subject of police investigations.

The task force identified one apparent contradiction in school board policy. While students who are suspended for drug and alcohol abuse are required to receive counseling, there is no such requirement for students suspended for violence.

"We think it is crucial that students get the counseling and support they need so that they will not behave that way again," Holmes said.

The task force recommended that the school board set aside at least $25,000 for each of the next three years for schools that want additional security through closed-circuit television and buzzer systems.

The task force suggested expanding the school resource officer program, which now is at two county high schools.

The officers serve as staff members at the schools, teaching classes, getting to know students and providing extra security.

Under the task force proposal, 12 middle and high schools would have school resource officers by next fall and 30 would have them by the 2002-2003 school year. The school system and the county Police Department would share the annual cost of approximately $50,000 per officer.

The task force called for two high schools to participate in a $6,000 "smart card" pilot program next fall, which would require students to use identification cards when in school.

Pub Date: 11/25/98

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