Reading, writing, role-playing

Howard County: As school year begins, educators right not to take security preparedness for granted.

August 31, 1999

PREPARING FOR a new school year is not supposed to be like this. The days leading up to the opening of classes should be a time for students and parents to think about new supplies, new teachers, new clothes, fresh optimism.

It's still that way, but not entirely. Especially since the shooting at a Colorado high school last spring, the emphasis is on making students feel safe. Along with fire drills come survival drills and other security measures.

In Jefferson County, Colo., the home of Columbine High, the school board voted to assign officers to middle and high schools, install panic alarm buttons that signal police, set up telephone hotlines and allow only one entrance for visitors in each building.

In Howard County, officials installed video monitors in 10 schools and police assigned a liaison to all 10 high schools. Every county school has adopted an emergency plan to respond to security problems.

In Anne Arundel County, a week before yesterday's opening of school, officials staged a mock hostage drama at Chesapeake High. Two role-playing pupils stalked the halls with fake automatic weapons. The aim of the exercise was to prepare administrators, the community and law enforcement for a worst-case scenario and to test plans put in place last year after schools there faced a rash of false bomb threats.

Some people wondered why Anne Arundel would even dare simulate violence. The display was unsettling, to be sure.

But the shooting spree at Columbine and at other schools across the country last year made the nation realize that such atrocities can strike anywhere, and no system should take security for granted. Better for schools to take new steps to prevent violence, to deter potential troublemakers and give students the sense of well-being that is crucial for an atmosphere for learning.

Pub Date: 8/31/99

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