CCPS hosts school safety info ses­sions

Times-Record - - Front Page - By ABBY AN­DREWS aan­drews@car­o­line­times­record.com

DEN­TON — Two in­for­ma­tional ses­sions about safety in Caro­line County schools were held re­cently in Fed­er­als­burg and Den­ton.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Caro­line County Pub­lic Schools and lo­cal law en­force­ment met with the pub­lic to dis­cuss steps that have al­ready been taken to beef up se­cu­rity in schools, as well as plans for fu­ture im­prove­ments, and to an­swer ques­tions.

A doc­u­ment cov­er­ing the in­for­ma­tion pro­vided and an­swers for fre­quently asked ques­tions is be­ing de­vel­oped, to be posted on the school sys­tem’s web­site, for those who could not at­tend.

At the Wednesday, March 28, ses­sion, held at the Den­ton Vol­un­teer Fire Com­pany hall, Caro­line County Pub­lic Schools Su­per­in­ten­dent Dr. Patricia Sae­lens said the ses­sions were held in light of re­cent tragedies.

“Safety for schools is our No. 1 pri­or­ity,” Sae­lens said.

Sae­lens opened the pre­sen­ta­tion by talk­ing about the school sys­tem’s “See some­thing, say some­thing” ini­tia­tive.

“If kids see any­thing at all, kids shouldn’t be afraid to

say some­thing,” Sae­lens said. “Po­lice will track down all leads to en­sure it’s not a valid threat. We need to sup­port our kids in that.”

Fur­ther, Sae­lens said, when kids — or adults — see some­thing threat­en­ing on so­cial me­dia, they should re­mem­ber “Don’t re­peat it, re­port it.”

In­stead of lik­ing, shar­ing or re­post­ing those so­cial me­dia posts, Sae­lens said, kids should take a screen­shot and show it to school ad­min­is­tra­tors or a school re­source of­fi­cer.

If kids are anx­ious about go­ing to an adult them­selves, they or any­one else can email the screen­shot to saysome­thing@ccpsstaff.org or re­port it through a link on the school sys­tem’s web­site, www.cl.k12.md.us.

As­sis­tant Su­per­in­ten­dent for Ad­min­is­tra­tive Ser vices Mil­ton Nagel dis­cussed the many se­cu­rity im­prove­ments al­ready in place in Caro­line County schools.

Nagel said the school sys­tem col­lab­o­rates with many com­mu­nity part­ners, in­clud­ing town, county and state law en­force­ment; the Caro­line County Health Depart­ment and pri­vate providers for men­tal and be­hav­ioral health ser­vices; and the Caro­line County com­mis­sion­ers.

All schools have an in­di­vid­ual cri­sis man­age­ment plan, up­dated an­nu­ally. There is also a coun­ty­wide plan, Nagel said. The plans are in place to re­spond to any cri­sis, like a nat­u­ral dis­as­ter, but also ac­tive shooter sit­u­a­tions.

Three Caro­line County sher­iff’s deputies serve as school re­source of­fi­cers, cov­er­ing all four county sec­on­dar y schools, Nagel said. One of those deputies serves as a year-round school re­source of­fi­cer, work­ing over the sum­mer break with ev­ery school’s ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The county’s five el­e­men­tary schools are in towns that ei­ther have their own po­lice depart­ment or con­tract with the sher­iff’s of­fice for in­creased cov­er­age, Nagel said. In those cases, those of­fi­cers would act as the first re­sponse in a sit­u­a­tion.

Nagel said the school sys­tem has re­placed key en­try on all schools’ doors with a badge sys­tem. Staff have badges that only al­low them en­try to as­signed schools dur­ing set hours, mean­ing they can­not ac­ci­den­tally for­get to lock a door be­hind them.

All law en­force­ment of­fi­cers in the county, in­clud­ing Mary­land State Po­lice who pa­trol the county, have their own badges that al­low ac­cess to all schools 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Nagel said.

Vis­i­tors must contact the school of­fice through an in­ter­com at the front en­trance to be al­lowed in, Nagel said. Once inside, they can only go to the of­fice to sign in.

A re­cently im­ple­mented sys­tem re­quires all vis­i­tors to pro­vide a gov­ern­ment-is­sued driver li­cense or ID card that can be scanned and checked against na­tional sex of­fender data­bases, Nagel said.

Schools have mo­tion-ac­ti­vated se­cu­rity cam­eras, the live feed of which can be pro­vided to the county’s 911 dis­patch cen­ter if needed, so dis­patch­ers can bet­ter di­rect first re­spon­ders, Nagel said.

Law en­force­ment of­fi­cers also have maps of ev­ery school, show­ing en­try points with badge read­ers.

All school staff mem­bers have re­ceived ac­tive shooter re­sponse train­ing with a school re­source of­fi­cer, Nagel said.

Staff and stu­dents all par­tic­i­pate in six state-re­quired cri­sis drills per year, Nagel said. While none of the drills are re­ferred to as an “ac­tive shooter” drill, they teach stu­dents the same re­sponses they would use in such a sit­u­a­tion.

Caro­line County Sher­iff Randy Bounds said lo­cal law en­force­ment started putting of­fi­cers through ac­tive shooter train­ing in 2012.

“We didn’t make it pub­lic then, but I think the time has come,” Bounds said.

Of­fi­cers also re­ceive de-es­ca­la­tion train­ing, for re­spond­ing to peo­ple deal­ing with a men­tal health cri­sis, and know the emer­gency pe­ti­tion process to get peo­ple into a hos­pi­tal for an eval­u­a­tion when needed.

“We want to solve the prob­lem be­fore it gets to school, by work­ing with men­tal health providers,” Bounds said.

School re­source of­fi­cers play a much big­ger role than some peo­ple re­al­ize, Bounds said.

“The of­fi­cers know the kids to an in­cred­i­ble depth,” Bounds said. “It’s about build­ing re­la­tion­ships with the kids.”

Those of­fi­cers also pro­vide se­cu­rity at large sports events at county schools, Bounds said, and have even trav­eled with teams to events held else­where.

Bounds said law en­force­ment has a great re­la­tion­ship with the school sys­tem. Po­lice are wel­come to check in on schools on a daily ba­sis, where they can get a closer look at floor plans and school lay­outs.

“We are con­stantly work­ing with each other to de­velop plans and hone our skills,” Bounds said.

Bounds said the shoot­ings in New­town, Conn., in 2012, and the more re­cent one in Park­land, Fla., only lasted six min­utes each.

“We have to know (how to re­spond) ahead of time, and we’re work­ing on that ev­ery day,” Bounds said.

Since the Florida shoot­ing, Caro­line County Pub­lic Schools and lo­cal law en­force­ment have han­dled a few re­ported pos­si­ble threats in county schools. While none turned out to be cred­i­ble, it was a les­son in how best to com­mu­ni­cate with the pub­lic while in­ves­ti­gat­ing those leads, of­fi­cials agreed.

Look­ing to fu­ture plans, Sae­lens said the school sys­tem is wait­ing to find out how much it will get of the $125 mil­lion Gov. Larry Ho­gan re­cently pledged to school safety.

In an­tic­i­pa­tion of that money, a steer­ing com­mit­tee has been formed, Nagel said, to look at safety pri­or­i­ties at each school, get cost es­ti­mates and fig­ure out how best to use what­ever state money is handed down.

When a par­ent asked how the school sys­tem plans to keep weapons out of schools, Sae­lens said ideas like metal de­tec­tors and clear back­packs will be looked at by the steer­ing com­mit­tee.

The ques­tion of new drills also came up. While of­fi­cials said the six drills stu­dents re­ceive cover the steps taken in an ac­tive shooter sit­u­a­tion, one par­ent said the fact none of them are ex­plic­itly called “ac­tive shooter” has made her daugh­ter wor­ried she does not know what to do.

“Kids need to know what’s be­ing done, be­cause they’re com­ing home scared,” the par­ent said.

Greens­boro El­e­men­tary School Prin­ci­pal Dawn Swann said last year, one of her school’s sup­port staff ac­ci­den­tally told stu­dents a drill had been prac­tice for an ac­tive shooter sit­u­a­tion, and the school got calls from par­ents an­gry with the staff mem­ber for be­ing so spe­cific.

“We don’t have an ‘ac­tive shooter’ drill be­cause we don’t want to make kids ter­ri­fied to come to school,” Nagel said.

Sae­lens closed the ses­sion by thank­ing ev­ery­one for their in­put, and en­cour­ag­ing any­one with more ques­tions to reach out to cen­tral of­fice staff or school ad­min­is­tra­tion at any time.

SHER­IFF RANDY BOUNDS

PATRICIA SAE­LENS

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