Carroll beefs up security of schools

No trips outside Maryland

staff kept in close contact

March 20, 2003|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Concerned about student safety as the United States goes to war with Iraq, Carroll County public school officials canceled all out-of-state field trips yesterday and beefed up security measures that will be implemented if administrators determine the threat to students has increased.

Under the revised Code Yellow -- the current state of "heightened security" and the least severe of the school system's three color-coded alert levels -- only field trips within Maryland are permitted and school staff members can attend training and other meetings outside the county only with approval of their principal.

School principals, assistant principals and other supervisors who work in the district's administrative offices in Westminster also must check with their department directors before leaving the county during a school day.

"One of my primary concerns is that we're preparing for something that's an unknown at this point, and it's hard to plan completely for an unknown event," said Cynthia Little, director of student services for Carroll schools.

Because school staff and emergency crew response plans would change depending on the type of crisis, the school district needs to ensure it can count on the factors that would remain unchanged in any emergency: school employees who would have to be in their schools and offices, Little said.

"We need to have our staff available who are familiar with our emergency plans, who are our critical thinkers and who can think on their feet," she explained.

"We have a lot of strategies that are well-planned, but my greatest concern is getting the people we can count on where they need to be so they can manage a crisis as they are experiencing it."

School officials also strengthened security precautions for the next-highest level of alertness, called "tightened security," or Code Orange.

Under the new measures for that alert level, principals and assistant principals would have to remain in their buildings during school days and keep their wireless phones, which have a walkie-talkie feature and can be used for text messaging, charged and with them at all times. Professional activities for teachers and other staff members outside the school would be canceled and all field trips would be called off.

Code Orange provisions, as written and implemented in the fall during the sniper shootings, included the cancellation of all outdoor and after-school activities, including recess and athletic events, and locking all but the primary entrances to school buildings.

School officials also clarified procedures in the event of a full school lockdown during a Code Red alert.

"If something like 9/11 happens to our country, we will make every effort -- just like did with 9/11 -- to get kids and parents together," Little said.

But parents should understand, she added, that if a school population needs to be quarantined or children's safety would be threatened by allowing them to leave the building to go home, parent pickups will be restricted until authorities are certain students are no longer at risk.

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