- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Calvert County Public Schools Superintendent Jack Smith met with members of the Calvert County Council of PTAs Tuesday night to discuss school safety and to get the council’s opinions on the matter.
Smith said while the issue has been discussed more publicly since the Dec. 14 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., CCPS had actually been studying the design of its schools since the shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., in 1999.
Smith said CCPS was particularly looking at the idea of putting locks on all classroom doors, though he said the initiative “would take a lot.”
As another alternative, Smith said some of the schools have been using lockable “straps,” which he described as going on the top or under doors.
Smith said he had heard of no “hard and fast” research that said lockable doors made schools safer, though he knew they did reduce anxiety.
“If you have less anxiety-ridden adults, you have less anxiety-ridden children,” he said.
Smith said he recently wrote to the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners requesting $350,000 immediately for safety interventions, including additional lockable straps to classroom doors.
He said the system was also looking into the issue of whether the front doors of schools should be locked during the school day.
“When you lock the front doors of the school, it does change the experience for the children and the adults in the community,” Smith, adding that it was a practice for all other doors around the facilities to be locked all day.
He said the schools have been partaking in “active shooter drills” with employees, who he said have also been trained how to know what in their classroom environment could potentially keep people safe, “if, God forbid, something should happen.
“And it could happen anywhere,” Smith said.
A benefit to CCPS, he continued, is how much of the county itself was connected to the schools in one way or another.
Speaking personally, Smith said his wife worked for the school system and all of his kids attended at one point.
Smith said he did have one personal opinion: “Educators should not carry guns. … It’s too many variables with people who have one job trying to think about another,” he said.
After making this statement, Smith took questions and comments from members of the audience.
Barstow Elementary School parent Carl Holmberg asked how trained school medical staff were to handle potential disasters and what type of medical technology they had available.
Smith said the majority of schools have a registered nurse and those that don’t have licensed practical nurses, but he said he didn’t know how advanced their technology was.
Smith said he had also heard that there were never any types of delays when ambulances and law enforcement were sent to the schools.
Huntingtown High School parent Robin Cavallaro asked if there was any truth to rumors of violence surrounding her kids’ school in late December.
“There were absolutely no verifiable rumors, or even names,” Smith said, continuing that every secondary school in the county had some type of unverifiable rumor floating around in the week following the Sandy Hook shooting.
When it came to Smith’s statement that doors around the school perimeters were locked during the school day, one Mt. Harmony Elementary School parent, who would not give her name, said that was not the case at her kids’ school, particularly on special occasions like Field Day.
“I can walk into any door at Mt. Harmony. I don’t know why people are saying the doors are locked,” she said.
Smith said he would look into her claim regarding that particular school.
On the other hand, Smith added, “When a school becomes a prison, that’s a difficult set of questions, too. … I would be philosophically opposed to locking kids inside and making them afraid.”
Sherry Mervine said she was in a unique position of being a CCPS parent but also a teacher at Our Lady Star of the Sea School in Solomons. The latter school, she said, has had security cameras and a front door that required being “buzzed in” for years.
Mervine said while the extra security “has its bugs,” it has tended to make staff more vigilant.
“We can have a lot of positive things to say about the situation,” she said.
Amy Foulkes of Chesapeake Beach said she wished there was some type of statistic that said schools with locked doors were safer.
“I’m a numbers person; I want to hear ‘we’re 80 percent safer if we lock our doors,’” she said.
“It just depends what the circumstances are in that moment,” Smith said. “… If it does slow down someone with a bad intent, it makes a difference.”
Catherine Newman of Chesapeake Beach said she hoped the school system would analyze risk and use common sense.
“You can’t say, ‘This will happen in Maryland in the next 100 years,’” Newman said. “… You have to have a reasonable response to a real risk.”
Smith said to an extent, she was correct.
“By far, a student is safer in school than any place in society. … But that doesn’t make us feel better,” he said.