Schools to use me­tal de­tec­tors

Hand­held wands, more cam­eras, ‘mouse trap’ vestibules in works

The Enterprise - - Front Page - By JACQUI ATKIELSKI jatkiel­ski@somd­news.com

In the con­tin­u­ing ef­fort to “har­den” school sites, St. Mary’s pub­lic school safety and se­cu­rity staff now have me­tal de­tect­ing wands to scan stu­dents if nec­es­sary. Staff are still fig­ur­ing out how to in­clude the por­ta­ble se­cu­rity fea­ture with­out in­ter­rupt­ing the school day.

Jim Davis, school board mem­ber, said “most of the per­pe­tra­tors were stu­dents” in vi­o­lent in­ci­dents oc­cur­ring over the last five years. Although he said he wasn’t crit­i­ciz­ing the cur­rent se­cu­rity plans, he said “se­cu­rity vestibules and cam­eras

aren’t go­ing to help much if the main cul­prit is our stu­dents.”

He asked what “ad­di­tional things can we do” to pre­vent stu­dents from bring­ing firearms or other weapons to school.

Mike Wyant, pub­lic schools’ di­rec­tor of safety and se­cu­rity, said the pre­sented se­cu­rity plan only in­cludes phys­i­cal up­grades to be made to school sites.

He said school board mem­bers will be hear­ing more about a “weapons abate­ment pro­gram,” which in­cludes use of 20

hand­held me­tal de­tec­tor wands at var­i­ous St. Mary’s pub­lic schools.

The plan has yet to be de­vel­oped for us­ing the de­vices, and it’s not yet known if they will be used daily or for emer­gency sit­u­a­tions, Wyant said in an in­ter­view.

At Wed­nes­day’s meet­ing, he re­minded school board mem­bers that school safety is an is­sue across the na­tion.

“Noth­ing beats en­cour­ag­ing stu­dents, our com­mu­nity — if you see some­thing, say some­thing,” he said.

Wyant said there is also “no ex­cuse for not hav­ing your weapons se­cured” at homes.

He said hand­held me­tal de­tec­tor wands were pur­chased at the end of Au­gust, and one of the safety as­sis­tants re­cently hired has ex­pe­ri­ence as a

cer­ti­fied weapons abate­ment trainer with the school po­lice divi­sion of the New York City Po­lice Depart­ment.

Now the chal­lenge is to fig­ure out how to mon­i­tor stu­dents with­out be­ing in­tru­sive, Wyant said.

“It’s still a work in progress,” he said. “It’ll be a well thought out process … in how we de­ploy” the de­vices.

Ful­fill­ing re­quire­ments of this year’s Safe to Learn Act, St. Mary’s school board mem­bers ap­proved at Wed­nes­day’s meet­ing a bud­get ad­just­ment for a va­ri­ety of safety and se­cu­rity ini­tia­tives like se­cu­rity vestibules, up­graded sur­veil­lance cam­eras and more.

Other re­quire­ments of the new law in­clude hir­ing ad­di­tional ad­min­is­tra­tive staff like a school safety co­or­di­na­tor and a men­tal health ser­vices

co­or­di­na­tor to over­see safety plans, im­ple­ment­ing emer­gency drills, and en­sur­ing stu­dents get any in-school coun­sel­ing help they might need.

Along with the $1 mil­lion pro­vided by the county com­mis­sion­ers in May, school staff were awarded this sum­mer a $182,000 grant from the state’s In­ter­a­gency Com­mis­sion on School Con­struc­tion.

That $1.18 mil­lion is ex­pected to fund the in­stal­la­tion of the two se­cu­rity vestibules at Chop­ti­con and Leonard­town high schools later this aca­demic year, up­grad­ing or in­stalling elec­tronic ac­cess points to ex­te­rior doors and its mon­i­tor­ing sys­tem and up­grad­ing cam­eras.

There are cur­rently 463 cam­eras at 20 schools. Sites with­out any cam­eras in­clude ele­men­tary schools like Ben­jamin Ban­neker, Ev­er­green, Hol­ly­wood, Let­tie Marshall Dent, Me­chan­icsville, Piney Point and White Marsh. Other sites with­out cam­eras in­clude

the Ch­e­sa­peake Pub­lic Charter School and Fair­lead Academy II be­hind Leonard­town High School. Staff ex­pect to in­stall an­other 260 cam­eras over the next three years.

The plan is to up­grade all school main en­trances by fis­cal year 2021, and the school sys­tem is con­tin­u­ing to ap­ply for grants to fund the projects.

Wyant said at Wed­nes­day’s meet­ing the ini­tial plan in­tro­duced in June has “been re­fined.” Great Mills High School now has a pro­to­type vestibule in­stalled at the main en­trance to the school, which pre­vents visi­tors and school staff dur­ing the day from di­rectly ac­cess­ing the main of­fice. Six months ago at the school, a dis­traught teen shot and killed a for­mer girl­friend and in­jured an­other stu­dent be­fore tak­ing his own life.

Call­ing the new vestibule “a mouse trap,” Wyant said visi­tors will have to sign in elec­tron­i­cally and show iden­ti­fi­ca­tion prior to en­ter­ing the main of­fice. But he

said if people with ill in­ten­tions can reach the main of­fice, they can take “con­trol of the school if they want to.”

Wyant said costs were go­ing to vary at each school, be­cause sites like Esper­anza Mid­dle School and the Dr. James A. For­rest Ca­reer and Tech­nol­ogy Cen­ter may re­quire ad­di­tional con­struc­tion.

Cathy Allen, school board mem­ber, said more can be done to con­nect with stu­dents and help them be­fore they con­sider bring­ing a weapon to school.

Along with the re­spon­sive class­room tech­niques ele­men­tary teach­ers are us­ing to help stu­dents man­age their be­hav­ior, the school board ap­proved Wed­nes­day ad­di­tional teacher train­ing for the pro­gram “Cap­tur­ing Kids’ Hearts,” which should give teach­ers ad­di­tional tools to bond with stu­dents and en­cour­age them to at­tend, be­have and per­form well in school.

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