- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Schools in St. Mary’s County and across the country are examining their security procedures this week in the wake of the Connecticut school shooting that left 20 children and six adults dead.
Superintendent Michael Martirano said that immediately upon hearing word of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday he began communicating with principals and other school employees about how to address the tragedy.
Martirano sent emails to school employees and then parents. He also recorded and on Sunday evening sent an automated phone message to households of public school students.
By Monday, when local schools reopened, security procedures were checked and access to some schools was limited, even for those parents who regularly volunteer, as staff adhered to already established rules. Some schools held intruder drills, where students and staff practiced lockdown procedures.
Martirano said Monday that schools are being “hypervigilant with our security efforts.”
The superintendent reported that, based on conversations with principals and his own visits to many of the schools, the climate was calm. He said that a few staff members and parents had commented to principals that they had personal connections with other educators or family and friends in and near Newtown, Conn., where last week’s shooting took place.
“We are maintaining what we have in place,” which already includes many good security procedures, Mike Wyant, the school system’s safety and security director, said.
He said he and other school officials will look for “lessons learned” that may come out of the Connecticut shooting in the days and months ahead, and adjust or add to St. Mary’s schools’ procedures if necessary.
Martirano said there are adults at the schools ready to help children through potential emotional issues related to the school shooting. School psychologists and counselors have been discussing the shooting and how best to help anyone troubled by the events.
During the weekend, Martirano said, emails sent by school principals and him included links to the school system’s website, where information about security could be found along with suggestions on how to talk to children about violence.
The National Association of School Psychologists suggests different routes of discussion based on a child’s age.
But generally, parents and other adults should reassure children that they are safe, and emphasize that schools are very safe places.
The association also suggests setting aside time to talk to children, and to be patient as they may not want to talk about it right away.
Other suggestions include limiting television viewing of coverage of the event, which could contain “developmentally inappropriate information [that] can cause anxiety or confusion.”
Martirano urged parents to “convey that message of comfort” to children.
He said that schools in St. Mary’s have many security procedures in place, including what are called security vestibules at all public schools. Those vestibules direct any visitor through the front door into the main office, where they must sign in at a computer and have their photo recorded.
He said that schools are vigilant about locking all other exterior doors during the school day.
Martirano said he planned to meet with Sheriff Tim Cameron (R) this week.
The schools and sheriff’s office have a strong partnership in place, Martirano said.
Deputies are assigned to each elementary school through the “Adopt-a-School” program. Those deputies drive to their school occasionally throughout the week to check in.
Middle and high schools have school resource officers assigned full time to covering schools during the daytime.
Regardless of security procedures, he said, “No matter what you put in place in terms of hardware, you still have to watch the behavioral element.”
He said staff and students alike need to report suspicious activity and adhere to security rules, like not propping open exterior doors.
All school employees need to have on identification badges, he said.
“We have to keep our guard up,” Martirano said.