School system officials hosted a town hall Monday at Thomas Stone High School in Waldorf to readdress safety and security issues as well as provide updates on school safety procedures, building enhancements and other initiatives.
“Twenty-seven thousand, five hundred and one of Charles County children attend Charles County Public Schools. Our first and most important job is to make sure that those 27,501 students, and almost 4,000 staff members, are safe every single day,” schools superintendent Kimberly Hill said as she kicked off the discussion inside Thomas Stone’s auditorium. “We take that responsibility extremely seriously.”
Hill was accompanied onstage by school safety and security director Jason Stoddard, student services director Kathy Kiessling and supporting services assistant superintendent Michael Heim, all of whom answered questions from the public following a brief presentation from Stoddard.
Hill thanked the Charles County Board of Commissioners for their help over the years with providing nearly $6 million in extra funding, designated for enhancing security efforts.
“We have used that money wisely in many different ways,” she said. “Most of that money has gone to security vestibules, additional doors and some security film [to put] over glass areas. We’re doing the best we can but we need your input, we need your ears and eyes and we need you to partner with us. We count on that to continue to keep our children safe.”
CCPS has spent more than $7.7 million over the last two-and-a-half years for such enhancements. That includes $1.6 million in state grants, $5.98 million from the county and $374,000 from the school system’s operating budget, according to Stoddard.
“It’s not just about the things that we buy,” said Stoddard, who is responsible for developing and executing a new plan for the school system, plus serving as an advisor to Hill and other CCPS personnel. “It is about the layered approach that we built upon as we continue to try and make our schools as safe as we can.”
Stoddard, a retired police officer whose 24 years in law enforcement includes threat assessments and facilitating after-action reviews for critical incidents, gave an overview of various safety and security enhancements that the school system has made over the past year. Key points that were discussed included enhanced screening of volunteers and existing employees; a single meeting location for family reunification in the event of a threat or natural disaster; 16 guided vestibules at area schools; behavioral threat assessment teams; full integration of the “See Something, Say Something” online anonymous reporting portal; establishment of safety advisory and safety committees; an updated memorandum of understanding with the Charles County Sheriff’s Office; door numbering; good radio systems; door locks and window film; trauma kits; and student identification badges that serve multiple purposes.
In addition, Stoddard spoke about standard, action-based response protocols and best practices for handling emergency situations. They include lockout, lockdown, evacuate, shelter and hold.
“In any case where there’s an emergency, it’s never going to be as perfect as it is inside of a static environment of ‘line up, go to the door and get outside,’” he said. “We want our teachers … to be thinking about what they should do. The number one thing that breaks down in any emergency is communication. … We do build in some of those realistic things that could happen.”
All in all, Stoddard said parents should be able to trust that school is a safe place for their children to learn. CCPS is simply aiming to implement initiatives that will help close communication gaps and ensure safety concerns are alleviated.
“We don’t get it right 100% of the time, but I assure you [that] we try,” said Stoddard. “We will continue to do everything that we can do to ensure that we’re working towards that 100%.”