Panel discusses school security

Committee suggests controlled access, IDs and uniforms

May 27, 2007|By Arin Gencer | Arin Gencer,Sun Reporter

Photo identification for students, more controlled access to schools and possible uniforms are among recommendations the Carroll County Board of Education is scheduled to review next month.

The recommendations came out of a security committee that Superintendent Charles I. Ecker called for last fall, after the Amish school shooting in Nickel Mines, Pa., he said.

"We had a lot of concerns raised by parents, staff, about the security in the schools," Ecker said, referring to incidents in school systems across the country. The committee of system staff members and parents was created "to see how we can improve our security," he said.

The school board is expected to examine the plan the committee developed in a June 27 work session, said Larry Faries, coordinator of school security.

That plan details starting target dates for each recommendation, ranging from as early as this spring to the 2008-2009 school year. There also are such items as issuing photo IDs to all school system employees and regular training for evacuation and lock-down drills.

Last week, Carrolltowne Elementary School started a trial run with a new visitor monitoring system - the first of its kind in a county school, Faries said. The system requires visitors to hit a buzzer to gain building access. Before entering the building, their identities are verified.Although there were some concerns of bogging down main office staff with regular requests for entrance, Faries said, the school will probably test out the concept through the end of this year and possibly in the fall.

Other recommendations include performing "risk assessments" at every facility and adding video surveillance to all schools' lobby areas. The high schools have security cameras in place, Faries said.

"They're an incredible deterrent," Faries said of the cameras. Vandalism has almost evaporated where they are installed, he added, and the video footage that is captured generally serves as strong legal evidence.

The estimated cost for some items, such as the digital video surveillance systems, risk assessments or middle school and high school student photo IDs, could climb into the tens of thousands of dollars.

One action that would more directly affect students involves amending and strictly enforcing the dress code, or "strongly" considering uniforms, to begin the 2008- 2009 school year.

"It's a very controversial approach," Faries said. "But ... a lot of school systems have that sort of thing."

From a security perspective, he said, uniforms eliminate having to worry about students wearing gang colors. They also make blending into the crowd more difficult for an outsider.

Faries pointed to Prince George's County as an example. Of more than 200 schools, about 130 have uniform policies - the majority mandatory, said John White, spokesman for Prince George's County public schools.

Parents make the decision for uniforms and also select them, White said. Some have opted for such combinations as khakis and a blue shirt, he said. But the school system does ask that the chosen outfits be available at retail stores and at a reasonable price. Ecker said he wasn't sure Carroll was ready for that step, although he could see the benefits.

Whatever decisions are made to bolster student safety, Faries and Ecker said they recognized the challenge of increasing security while maintaining openness and access to schools.

"You've either got security, or you've got this open-door policy. They don't meld together," Faries said. "You can't really have it both ways."

arin.gencer@baltsun.com

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