Parents say a requested six-foot fence around University Park Elementary School reminded them more of a prison as opposed to a measure to further protect their children.
University Park officials agreed and denied the request at Monday’s council meeting, but there was one problem — most of the fence has already been built.
Prince George’s County Public Schools representatives said they were unaware of the town’s four-foot height fence regulations when they began fencing in the schools outdoor buildings as part of a broader safety initiative being implemented across the county.
Rex Barrett, acting director of security services for the school system, said construction on the fence began June 3 and was about three-quarters of the way complete on June 9, when University Park Mayor John Rogard Tabori issued a stop order on the project.
“I think the issue is not whether you support it or didn’t support it,” Tabori said after the meeting. “I think people were fairly angry about the fact that [the school system] didn’t come before us.”
Tabori said the county was required to consult the town before starting construction because of a town ordinance that prohibits fences taller than four feet. But he added that he expects the county will receive the permit for the fence once the council has determined that the structure complies with safety criteria and other regulations listed in the town code.
During the meeting, school system representatives said the safety measures are being phased in at all of the county’s 205 schools this year in response to shootings that are occurring with increasing regularity across the country.
In addition to six-foot-high fences around temporary school buildings at the county’s 62 elementary and K-8 schools, the $9.5 million safety initiative includes electronic access, a panic button and a visitor management system that screens school visitors’ background.
“We’re having an incident at a school regularly, once a month, throughout the country,” Barrett said. “We want to set up an environment where [children] don’t have to worry about outside influences.”
But parents said the fence would actually endanger the lives of children by potentially trapping them inside in the event of an emergency in addition to being an eyesore.
“I think a fence sends bad messages, giving the impression that the school is like a prison and the kids are locked up,” Kristi Janzen of University Park, whose daughter attends the school, said after the meeting.
Brian Jackson, whose daughter attends the school, said the fence and the temporary outdoor classrooms he described as “sheds” make the school look like “a correctional facility.”
“I’m not proud of what the school looks like and what is going on here,” he said.
Barrett said the school system is about halfway done implementing the countywide safety initiative. He said the fence portion of the project, which costs $15,000 to $20,000 per school, on average, has so far been completed at five of the 62 schools and is under construction at 10 schools.
The University Park council will revisit the fence issue during its next meeting July 7.