When Carroll County Times staffers went to three different county schools on a Monday morning to check security protocols in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, shooting that occurred two weeks ago, they found slight deviations in security policies laid out by the school system.
At Elmer Wolfe Elementary and Century High schools, staffers were let in after buzzing into the intercom system without being asked who they were and why they were there before being let into the building. At a third school, East Middle, a Times reporter was let in by a member of school staff who took note of the writer’s identification badge, bypassing the buzzer and intercom system.
Baltimore Sun Media Group, which includes the Carroll County Times, sent 18 reporters and several photographers — all with photo IDs prominently displayed — to schools across Central Maryland at 10 a.m. Monday, Feb. 26, to get a metaphorical snapshot of security procedures at schools throughout the region. Reporters noted security protocols at three representative schools in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties. Throughout the various jurisdictions, discrepancies were found, from reporters being buzzed in without speaking to staff in Carroll to a door being propped open at a Baltimore City high school.
Signs posted outside of each Carroll County Public Schools building instruct visitors approaching the front door to press the button on the intercom for assistance. There is also a camera posted near the intercom to allow staff to get a visual of the visitor.
Staff is expected to respond and ask the visitor their reason for the visit, said Carroll County Public Schools Supervisor of School Security and Emergency Management Duane Williams. If the staff members get a “reasonable” explanation and have looked at the camera feed to assess the visitor’s demeanor and look for threats, the staff is to open the door and instruct the visitor to come to the front office, he said.
A visitor who has a legitimate reason to go beyond the main office is required to scan their driver’s license and receive a visitor’s pass, Williams said.
When told that school staffers did not completely follow protocol Monday, Williams said if there are discrepancies, he follows up with those schools. “There’s always a human element,” he said.
Following the Florida shooting, other than reinforcing policies already in place, there aren’t any system-wide changes being implemented to CCPS security.
“There’s nothing that I’ve seen that has come out of Florida to date that has caused us to change anything,” he added, though he noted a breezeway at West Middle School that would no longer be in use.
Nationally there have been discussions around arming teachers — an idea backed by a bill in the Maryland General Assembly that members of Carroll’s local delegation have supported — as well as bringing in law enforcement at the schools, either with more law enforcement presence at the high schools or bringing in full-time school resource officers.
Carroll County Sheriff Jim DeWees recently told the Times he would have deputies “in and out” of county schools in light of recent events.
Williams said he personally think resource officers are a “great idea.”
In light of the tragedy two weeks ago, Williams said “obviously people are on edge,” parents especially, but also students and staff members.
“I think there’s a whole lot of anxiety among parents, students and staff,” he added.
Below, the Times lays out a chronological account of each staffer’s experience Monday morning.
Century High School, Eldersburg
Century was built in 2001 and is located on Ronsdale Road, just off Liberty Road (Md. 26). It’s roughly 3.5 miles from the intersection of Md. 26 and Md. 32, which represents the heart of Eldersburg, and is where the Carroll County Sheriff’s Southern Office is located.
When the reporter approached, he noticed at least one camera on the outside corner of the building by the walkway to the front door, roughly 50 feet from the entrance. To the left of the front door, there was an intercom with a camera.
A permanent sign instructed visitors to “Please press button on intercom for assistance. If there is no response, please call the main office at 410-386-4400. All visitors proceeding beyond the front office will be required to provide photo identification.” Below the same message is posted in Spanish. A sign printed on green paper was taped to the intercom with essentially the same message, except noting visitors to buzz only once.
The reporter buzzed and heard the door unlock, but no one spoke to him on the intercom. He proceeded into the vestibule, noting another paper sign there stating all visitors should report to the main office. To the left, windows allow administrators in the main office a clear view into the vestibule. To the right, one could presumably go to classrooms; it did not appear visually there would be anything stopping a visitor, but it would be in clear view of the main office.
It was about 12 steps from the first door to the main office, located immediately to the left in the main lobby. The admin at the desk directly next to the front door greeted the reporter, who identified himself and stated he was from the Carroll County Times, and wished to speak with Principal Troy Barnes regarding school security.
The admin informed the reporter that the principal was in a meeting and couldn’t speak with him now. She took his information, noting his ID badge around his neck and his phone number.
The admin also asked whether the reporter had already contacted Central Office and advised that he might have better luck speaking with Williams, the supervisor of school security.
Upon leaving, the reporter drove around the school, which has three sides visible from Ronsdale Road, noting that there appeared to be security cameras at every entryway and in other corners of the building.
Westminster East Middle School, Westminster
East Middle, built in 1936 as the second incarnation of Westminster High School and renovated in 1975, is located in downtown Westminster. The Westminster Police Department’s Office is less than a quarter-mile away.
A Times reporter approached the main entrance to East Middle School in Westminster at 10 a.m. Monday. A school staff member arrived at the front door just before the reporter, looked at the reporter’s ID and photo, asked the reporter if he needed to speak with someone, and let the reporter in.
The main entrance is equipped with a camera and buzzer system with instructions in English and Spanish on how visitors should proceed. Office personnel are able to view feeds from the camera and also have visual access to anyone who comes to the front door.
The main office is up some stairs, fewer than 20 steps from the front door. The staffer escorted the reporter up the steps to the office, where he was asked his purpose, which was to speak with Principal Jamie Carver, but without an appointment. The reporter was told the principal was in a meeting and not available.
The reporter held a short conversation with a member of the staff and noted that during that time two people came to the front entrance, were asked their names and purpose for coming to the school and were then buzzed in.
Reached later by phone, Carver said he would’ve preferred that the reporter wait at the front entrance to be buzzed in by office personnel, but that he was satisfied at having a member of the school staff make a visual identification with photo ID before allowing a visitor in — but only a staff member. He said he and his teachers frequently remind students not to hold open the door and let anyone into the school, even if it seems rude.
After entering through the main door, it would be possible to exit to a stairway and bypass the office to get into other areas of the school. But that would immediately be noted by office staff.
At that point, Carver said, if the person was known to the staff, a frequent parent volunteer for example, a staff member would find the person and bring them to the office to sign in. If it was a person unknown to office personnel, the decision could be made to immediately press a button and put the school on lockdown. Also, occasionally individuals are placed on lists barring their entry, such as in cases of a court order involving custody of a student.
The school is largely surrounded by a chain-link fence. Only two side doors are accessible without getting past the fence. Those doors, as with all doors at the school, are locked so that no one without an access badge for electronic entry can get in from the outside, according to Carver.
Carver said the recent school shooting in Parkland prompted school personnel to re-evaluate all the security measures they have in place, to reiterate all policies and procedures to students and to emphasize the need for checking photo IDs and asking visitors for the purpose of their coming to the school. Carver also noted there are things he would like to see changed, such as the type of glass in some of the windows.
Carver conceded that “no system is 100 percent foolproof.” But he said he thinks the safeguards in place do what they are intended to do in terms of making sure the staff knows who is coming into the school and why; and, in the event of a worst-case scenario, slowing down and frustrating potential perpetrators.
Elmer Wolfe Elementary School, Union Bridge
Elmer Wolfe Elementary, built in 1998, sits off of North Main Street in Union Bridge, near a residential area. Behind the school are trees and open space, the front and left side surrounded by parking lots. On both of those sides, which were visible from the parking lots, cameras line the walls.
There are at least four cameras on the left side and at least three on the front near the door. The building sits about a mile from the Union Bridge Volunteer Fire Company and about a half a mile from the center of the town of less than 1,000 residents.
On a Monday morning at 10 a.m., a reporter approached the school with the reporter’s badge displayed on a lanyard, a photographer in tow. In walking up, the reporter pushed the buzzer on the intercom system, which is mounted on the wall to the left of the door, just below a camera.
Next to the camera and intercom there’s a sign written in both English and Spanish that reads: “Welcome to Elmer Wolfe Elementary School. Visitors: Please press the button on the intercom for assistance. If there is no response, please call the main office at 410-751-3307. All visitors proceeding beyond the front office will be required to provide photo identification.”
After pressing the buzzer, the reporter was let in, without any questioning. It’s about 10 steps from the front door and buzzer to the front office. The reporter spoke with a secretary and identified herself, before asking to speak with either the principal or assistant principal.
The secretary made a phone call, and the reporter and photographer sat in the front office until Assistant Principal Katie Finneran came out.
Upon explaining the reason for the visit and asking to talk about school security procedures, Finneran asked if the Times had spoken to Williams. When told no, Finneran left to make a phone call, leaving the reporter and photographer alone.
When she returned a few minutes later, she directed the reporter to speak with CCPS spokeswoman Carey Gaddis. Both the reporter and photographer then left.