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Teachers, students and staff will have to use electronic key cards to open doors at all St. Mary’s public schools before the start of classes next year.
The electronic locks add a layer of security to the schools, Mike Wyant, director of safety and security, said. However, they only work if teachers and other school staff adhere to the rules, including not propping open back or side doors.
“If there is one door opened that we don’t know about, you’re really impacting the safety to the entire building,” Wyant said.
Nineteen schools, plus two school administration offices, have the electronic locks installed so far. There are seven elementary schools left to be equipped — Dynard, Green Holly, Hollywood, Mechanicsville, Piney Point, Ridge and White Marsh — along with the information technology office at the Bethune center.
The total costs for the locking systems as well as new security cameras put in place over the last several years could approach $1 million.
Garth Bowling, principal at Chopticon High School, said that the locks have cut down on the number of students who skip class to go to the woods behind the school because they know they will be locked out. The doors are not locked from the inside.
Other principals quoted in the presentation Wednesday said the system keeps students coming from classroom trailers from being locked out of the school and promotes overall safety.
Shannon Demehri, the student board member and a senior at Leonardtown High School, asked about how students who are in classroom trailers are able to get back into the main school building. “I know people are getting locked out,” she said.
Wyant said the classroom trailers were what really necessitated the electronic locks, which can be timed to automatically unlock with the school bell to allow students to move to and from the trailers. That has worked well at most schools, including Chopticon, but there is a timing issue at Leonardtown High that the security and maintenance staffs are currently dealing with, Wyant said.
Students who need to enter the building at times other than between classes can be given a student card key by the teacher that would allow that student to unlock the back doors nearest the classroom trailers. Those key cards are set to only work during school hours, he said.
“It’s an electronic hall pass, if you will,” Wyant said.
The school board entered a contract with Mona Electric Group last fall for the electronic locks as well as the video camera systems in St. Mary’s public schools.
Recent work has included spending about $15,000 at both Town Creek and Benjamin Banneker elementary schools and about $12,000 at Spring Ridge Middle School to install new locks on doorways.
In addition to the costs of the dual identification and key cards, which run about $6.28 apiece, certain exterior doors are outfitted with the electronic locks and key card readers.
There are currently 308 security cameras at 16 schools and school offices in St. Mary’s County, Wyant said. Those cameras can be monitored remotely by school personnel through the Internet. Within two to four years that number will likely more than double as cameras are installed at all of the schools. The vast majority of cameras now are at middle and high schools.
Wyant said outfitting an elementary school with between 15 and 20 cameras would cost about $20,000. Installing a complete camera system with equipment would run about $40,000 for a larger school.
While he said he was not a fan of installing metal detectors at the entrance to schools as some jurisdictions have done in recent years, Wyant does want tightened security at all schools.
Along with the electronic locks and cameras, over the last few years all of the county’s public schools constructed security vestibules, which funnel visitors through the front door into the main office before they can enter school halls. This allows school secretaries to see every person who comes into the building.
In addition, visitors are required to sign in to a computer, which often will take a photo of the person. Those systems can automatically check a name against sex offender and other databases.
Already in place are police officers in some schools as well as school safety and security assistants.