Tragedy sparks review of school safety measures in Prince George’s -- Gazette.Net


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Days after a violent shooting rampage that killed 27 children and adults inside a Connecticut elementary school, Prince George’s school and law enforcement officials are reviewing school safety — examining camera systems, entryway protocols and visitor protocols.

“Anybody on the street could walk right in here,” Judette Adams, a school nurse at Thomas Pullen Elementary School in Landover, said Monday, explaining that she believes school doors only should be accessed by card keys or some other electronic locking system. “... I’m just petrified. Not for myself, but for the children.”

The county police department and school system increased police patrols in and around schools minutes after the shooting Friday, something they said will continue for the coming weeks while reviewing security measures and potentially making changes to their active shooter response plans, a system of special training for officers, coordination between police and schools, prevention through communication of threats, and regular surveillance of schools and surrounding areas.

Shots rang out in Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School hallways and classrooms Friday morning after a gunman opened fire on students and staff, killing 20 children and six adults before taking his own life, according to reports. The gunman, who also fatally shot his mother prior to entering the school, was identified as 20-year-old Adam Lanza, of Newtown, Conn.

“I’m at a loss for words. This is such a heinous incident. My heart just breaks for the entire community. What can you say? I couldn’t imagine what 6- and 7-year-olds could do to threaten an adult,” said Michael Blow, the county school systems’ director of security services.

Blow said potential changes to camera systems and entryway protocols will be determined after the review is performed.

County schools interim Superintendent Alvin Crawley said the school system is reviewing its security and communication procedures. He said long-term security plans include increasing communication between schools’ staff members, county school officials and police officers, Crawley said.

“We’re also making sure we’re in good communication with our parents so we’re giving them good information and we’re assuring them that our schools continue to be safe places,” Crawley said.

Briant Coleman, Prince George’s County Public Schools communications director, urged parents to sign up for emergency alerts through the school system’s website, www.pgcps.org, and to ensure their contact information is updated.

Coleman said there are no security officers specifically assigned to each elementary school in the county, but said county police officers and security officers “have a constant presence” at each school throughout the day and are permitted to patrol the buildings. He said unlike elementary schools, a security officer is assigned to high schools and middle schools.

Earnest Moore, president of the Prince George’s County PTA Council, the umbrella group for county PTA groups, commended the school system for its efforts establishing the emergency notification system.

Moore said the PTA council also is urging parents to instruct their children on safety issues at school and at home.

“Next time it doesn’t even have to be a gun. Next time it could be a knife or a bomb or anything. It could happen in any community at any time,” Moore said, adding that all parents need to be aware of and adhere to their school’s security procedures.

Blow said parents, students and staff members should report any suspicious activity, “No matter how minor.”

County police Maj. George Nadar, commander of the department’s District 3, said about 80 percent of all school shootings involve a known threat prior to the incident, and said police and school officials need to be on alert for any potential threats or signs that could evolve into an actual shooting.

He said the department held an active shooter training session at Henry Wise High School in Upper Marlboro in July and from there made several changes to departmental procedures including the use of a trauma kit that would be carried into schools during a shooting situation so victims can receive immediate medical assistance.

He also said police and school officials have been communicating so that principals and school staff are aware of how to handle situations as it relates to a police response. Coleman said the school system has one active shooter training session per semester held at one school that is made available to all administrators. He also said each school has regular drills throughout the semester whether it be for a lockdown or evacuation, and said schools constantly are making improvements to plans after each drill.

“They now know what they’re suppose to do and they know what to expect from us,” said Nadar of police-school communication before reflecting on the Connecticut shooting. “This is just a horrible situation by a horrible individual.”

Nadar and Blow said law enforcement and school officials now are planning another active shooter exercise for the spring.

Crawley went to District Heights Elementary School on Monday morning as schools systemwide held a moment of silence at 10 a.m. to mourn the deaths in Connecticut.

“The moment of silence is our way of honoring the people that have lost their lives. This is a horrible event. Certainly Prince George’s County community schools extend our heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and this is our way of joining our nation in grieving for their loss,” Crawley said.

Coleman said school systems across the nation reached out to PGCPS during the Washington, D.C., sniper attacks in 2002, when one student was shot at Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Bowie.

He said that is one reason why the school system is taking a moment of silence and offering condolences to Newtown, Conn.

“We understand how it helps to know others are grieving and offering support,” he said.

djgross@gazette.net