Maryland school systems look at ways to prevent Colorado-type tragedy here

Grasmick says principals need

emergency plans

Colorado School Shooting

April 22, 1999|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Even as Maryland's teachers and principals reassured students yesterday that their schools are safe, educators and state officials said that Tuesday's shootings in Colorado emphasize the need to watch for abnormal behavior -- and prepare for crises.

"We need to be much more discerning about students' behavior and how their behavior can escalate into violence," said state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick. "We need to be much more informed about what is normal adolescent behavior and what is more than that."

Grasmick said the Maryland State Department of Education will sponsor training sessions and meetings to help teachers and principals better identify warning signs and behaviors that suggest students are prone to violence.

At a meeting tomorrow, Grasmick also will call on the superintendents of Maryland's 24 school systems to make sure their principals have emergency response plans in place.

Violence-prevention task forces in Baltimore and Howard counties recently recommended that such plans be required throughout their systems, and Baltimore County schools must practice their plans at least twice per year.

All Anne Arundel County schools have such plans, and Carroll County principals are required to have their plans in place by Sept. 1.

"No plan can totally prevent something from happening, but a good one can minimize some of the effects," said Wayne D. Thibeault, principal of General John Stricker Middle School, Dundalk.

The plan at Thibeault's school has become the model for many schools in Baltimore and Carroll counties. In the event of a crisis, it calls for an announcement to go out over the school's intercom and teachers to lock all classrooms to ensure that students remain safe.

Yesterday, efforts by schools to reassure students and parents varied from moments of silence to talks with counselors.

The Maryland flag was ordered lowered to half-staff at all schools and public institutions.

Discussions -- particularly in social studies and English classes -- were common in almost all schools, and guidance counselors were available for group discussions. Many religious schools also offered prayers for the students killed in Colorado.

But extra security was rare.

"I think we are taking a reasonable approach to this," said Anne Arundel County schools Superintendent Carol S. Parham. "We are always concerned about copycat incidents, but we will use the police on an as-needed basis."

The Howard County Police Department was the only one to assign extra officers to schools for the rest of the week, said Chief Wayne Livesay. All 10 high schools will have officers through tomorrow, and patrol officers are making extra checks at the county's middle schools.

"It's more of an effort to put some sense of security back in the schools after what occurred in Colorado," Livesay said. "We had several calls today from PTAs thanking us for doing it."

Schools also emphasized to students the importance of reporting suspicious behavior.

"We're very nosey here," said Rose Bakus-Davis, principal of Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore. "We try to develop a high level of confidentiality here so kids can tell on each other without being afraid."

Baltimore County's task force recommended that schools set up boxes in which students can anonymously report potentially violent situations.

After shootings last school year in Arkansas, Pennsylvania and Oregon, safety has been a major focus of local school systems and state officials.

For example, Baltimore County has begun a program to put police officers in county high schools as members of the school staffs, teaching classes, providing security and getting to know students. The program will expand from two to eight schools.

Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend also has pushed for initiatives to reduce juvenile violence, including placing probation officers in some high schools.

Next week, the first meeting will be held of the Cabinet Council on Criminal and Juvenile Justice school safety task force. The group is expected to discuss such measures as increasing penalties for school-related crimes and giving schools more tools to remove disruptive students.

On Wednesday, Anne Arundel County school officials will open a tip line for reporting suspicious behavior in a school: 1-888-466-0888.

Sun staff writers Kris Antonelli, Liz Bowie, Mike Farabaugh, Greg Garland and Erika D. Peterman and contributing writers Young Chang and Jennifer Sullivan provided material for this article.

Pub Date: 4/22/99

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