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I write to you with a heavy heart and on behalf of the Board of Education of St. Mary’s County. Words cannot fully describe our feelings about the horrific events that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14. We want to assure you of the proactive steps, procedures and protocols our school district has in place to prevent and, if necessary, respond to a similar occurrence.

We have implemented every conceivable and reasonable measure to prevent any such occurrence in our schools. Our approach to preventing campus violence is simplistic yet multi-faceted, and remains clearly rooted in the lessons learned by others who have had to deal with similar unfortunate acts of violence on school campuses in other states.

Communication is the first and most critical component in our prevention efforts. In many previous incidents communication and the lack of communication within a community are cited as the single most critical factor that may have contributed to stopping campus violence. In almost all prior cases, there was someone within the community who possessed information or suspected an abnormality and failed to report what they knew or suspected to authorities who, in turn, could have taken preventive actions.

Through this letter, I am strongly encouraging anyone who suspects or knows any information of concern to please report it. Please allow us the opportunity to work with the authorities to investigate and determine the validity of the information.

There are many ways to report any suspicions or concerns. You can report information by phone or e-mail using school channels that include your student’s site administrator, the central administration offices, and the St. Mary’s County public schools confidential reporting hotline by calling 301-475-4256, ext. 150, or 188. You are not required to leave any personal information and can remain completely anonymous if you use the hotline. You can also contact the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office or the Maryland State Police. We have an excellent working relationship with law enforcement authorities and information reported is investigated immediately through our established partnerships.

Our law enforcement partnerships are highly proactive and extend far beyond investigations. We have worked together to create many prevention-focused initiatives to include the school resource officers assigned to all secondary schools and Adopt-A-School officers for each elementary school. Most recently we worked together to develop the Keeping Our Schools Safe campaign that was fully implemented at the beginning of last school year. We also coordinate training efforts for staff and actively participate in joint emergency response exercises.

Within our school system, central administration support staff and school-based staff work together to provide prevention services to our schools that include coordinating counseling and threat assessments for students who may require support. We work together to ensure compliance with the student code of conduct when bullying, fighting or weapons violations have occurred on campus. We have deployed strong physical security protocols that are technologically advanced and support on-site school security. These protocols include visitor access management, security cameras, electronic locking systems, and dedicated professionally trained safety and security assistants in all secondary schools. Finally, we maintain emergency response plans and conduct school-based drills. Annual drills are mandated at each school and our emergency plans are updated annually.

Words cannot fully describe my feelings about this horrific event and our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and families. Our schools should be safe havens and no harm should ever come to our young people, teachers and staff. We have been relentless in our philosophy and our approach toward increasing the safety of our schools. Last Friday’s event is a reminder that we must be ever vigilant in our focus on school security and safety.

Please be assured that we continually focus on safe and orderly schools and do all we can to ensure the safety of our students, staff and visitors. The safety and security of our school community is one of our greatest responsibilities. If you have any questions or concerns or would like more information on this topic, please feel free to contact the SMCPS Department of Safety and Security at 301-475-4256, ext. 150.

Please keep the victims of this tragic event in your thoughts and prayers. Hug your own children tonight; and if they are not near you, call them and tell them that you love them. Peace to you as we try to comprehend this senseless act of violence.

Michael J. Martirano, Leonardtown

The writer is superintendent of public schools in St. Mary’s County.