Schools to use metal detectors
Handheld wands, more cameras, ‘mouse trap’ vestibules in works
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.