CCPS hosts school safety info sessions
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 firstname.lastname@example.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