- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The county school system hopes to get funding from the state and the county for already-planned security measures.
Charles County Schools Superintendent James E. Richmond said he has begun upgrading security features but could use any support and funding the system can get.
Richmond addressed safety measures last week at a Parent Advisory Committee meeting at the school system’s central office in La Plata.
“We work on safety year-round,” he said.
He addressed the Sandy Hook tragedy in Connecticut by saying that what happened — 26 people, including 20 elementary school students, were shot dead — is a superintendent’s and principal’s worst nightmare.
Richmond told parents that he went before Gov. Martin O’Malley late last month because O’Malley had requested to hear from each school system about safety and security in schools.
Richmond told parents that O’Malley (D) was looking to set aside $25 million for school safety and security, and he hopes to get some of the funds for plans that include putting cameras in elementary schools, adding Charles County sheriff’s officers in elementary schools and upgrading locks and entrances at schools.
Richmond said all high schools and middle schools have sheriff’s officers, known as school resource officers, assigned to the schools.
Richmond requested $2.4 million for safety and security measures in his proposed operating budget for next year. Of that, $600,000 would go to the sheriff’s office to begin assigning resource officers to each elementary school. The plan is to get eight officers a year over the course of three years to cover elementary schools and the Robert D. Stethem Educational Center.
Richmond said he likes having officers in the schools.
“I do not believe in arming any educators,” he said.
Charles County started putting officers in the schools in 2000, with two officers at the high school level.
He said the intent was always to get an officer at each school. Due to lack of funding, elementary schools have been the only schools without an officer for each building.
As for locks, Richmond said he is using money from facilities and maintenance to begin upgrading classroom locks with locking mechanisms that allow teachers to lock their classrooms from the inside. The door is locked on the outside but at no time will teachers or students be locked in, as they can turn the handle and the door will open from the inside without having to turn a lock or use a key.
“Teachers have complete control of the classroom, but students can’t be locked in,” he said.
One parent asked about schools such as Dr. Gustavus Brown Elementary School, which was built with open classrooms, that do not have an ability to lock unwanted guests out of their rooms.
Over the years, Richmond said, several of the open classroom-designed schools were fitted with walls, but the expense is great due to having to replace heating and air-conditioning systems that were designed for the open space.
For those schools, system staff was asked to look at entrance and exit doors in regards to security upgrades and each principal to work with its school on individual security procedures.
Richmond said some of the new locks have been put in place at the elementary school level but would not specify at which schools.
Richmond said school staff has worked with county sheriff’s officers to look at every school to identify those that need upgrades to front entrances. With newer schools, the front entrance forces visitors into the main office before they can get anywhere else in the school.
“Some schools, the office is way down in the middle of the building and the door is way out front. What we need to do right away is figure out how to control that.”
One idea is to use a buzzer system.
“We have a plan for every school,” he said.
For trailers at schools, Richmond is looking at adding card swipes for entrance to those buildings.
Plans put in place for each school have been approved by the sheriff’s office. He said it might take a while to get it all in place, but he has asked staff to get started.
The school system began upgrading cameras last year, spending $550,000.
Richmond said middle schools and high schools are all set. “It’s the elementary schools that need our support.”
In addition to security measures, Richmond said the school system plans to add another school psychologist for the high schools to add support for students who need help as they go through the system.
He said he is also looking into a referral service in addition to psychologists to further assist students.