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News Maryland Carroll County Westminster

New security measures balance keeping schools welcoming and safe

Going to visit your child at school this year?

Don't forget your driver's license.

A series of new security features in all public schools, including requiring visitors to present a photo ID, preferably a driver's license, go into effect at the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year in Carroll County.

"We tried hard to find a happy balance between updating and increasing general school security while also trying not to close our schools off or make them less inviting, open places," said Jon O'Neal, assistant superintendent of administration for the school system.

This year, all 43 schools in Carroll County will have "main access visitor control," O'Neal said, where just one door will be open that every visitor must use to enter the building.

There will be a camera at that entrance and visitors will have to buzz in and identify themselves and their purpose at the school before a school employee will grant them access, according to O'Neal.

Once inside, the "visitor management system" will require visitors to check into the main office and present a driver's license or photo ID.

O'Neal said the ID will be scanned into a computer and a visitor badge will be printed out for the visitor to wear while in the building. The badge will have ink that will fade so it can't be used after that day.

The decision to implement more stringent security protocols in Carroll County schools goes back to the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, O'Neal said.

Twenty-six people were shot and killed in the Connecticut elementary school in December 2012.

"After Sandy Hook, we made security a priority and looked at every aspect in our schools," O'Neal said.

The Board of Education established a Community School Security Committee, which led to a comprehensive risk assessment and security audit, O'Neal said. At the same time, the Maryland General Assembly made available funds for capital security improvements in state school systems.

"What you'll see in schools this year is the result of a long process of studying our security and trying to make reasonable improvements and leveraging the state money to the extent possible," O'Neal said.

The total cost of the new systemwide security upgrades in Carroll County is $1.2 million, with just over $800,000 of that coming from the state, according to O'Neal. The remaining money came from the Board of Carroll County Commissioners and the Board of Education.

"$1.2 million seems like a boat load of money to you and me, but when you're talking about 43 schools, it's just enough," O'Neal said.

In addition to the new visitor entrance procedures, O'Neal said school staff will also be more conscious of school security by asking visitors without badges to sign in at the main office.

Schools will also be doing more lockdown drills this year and administrators will be a little more thorough in analyzing the success of those drills, according to O'Neal.

O'Neal said that CCPS can't afford, nor does it have the manpower, to have a resource officer in each school like some counties might.

He pointed out that local law enforcement regularly patrol the schools and county or municipal law enforcement officers make it a point to stop by and spend time at schools.

While on site, an officer might do a walk-through or have a cup of coffee, O'Neal said.

"We track data on how many visits law enforcement makes to our schools, and we believe that, in our community, this is a very effective model," O'Neal said.

Manchester resident Kenneth Mattson, father of a seventh-grader at North Carroll Middle School and a third-grader at Ebb Valley Elementary, said he was not bothered by the extra steps required to visit a school because of the new security plans.

"I am definitely happy with the increased security," Mattson said. "I don't want people to have the ability to just walk into a school without having to present an ID first."

Mattson said he does not think additional security upgrades are needed to protect students.

"I think cameras at the entrance and visitors needing to be personally admitted into the building by the administrative staff are sufficient to protect our students," Mattson said. "I would not want armed guards stationed at the schools."

O'Neal asked for patience and support from the community while the new procedures are put in place.

"We know that it will be a culture change for us — for schools and employees, and our parents as well. But we are asking the community to go through this with us and adjust to the new standards," O'Neal said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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