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Howard County forms task force to address school safety

Renee FooseKen UlmanSandy Hook Elementary School Shooting

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman announced Monday, Dec. 17 the formation of a joint task force comprised of school, public safety and mental health professionals to address school safety in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in Connecticut.

"We're going to take a look at what we're doing very well and what we can do better," Ulman said.

Ulman announced the new task force with Howard County Chief of Police Bill McMahon after the pair met Monday morning with Howard County Public School Superintendent Renee Foose to discuss school safety. McMahon will chair the task force along with a representative from the school system and participation from the county health department and other agencies.

The task force, expected to be formed and begin meeting this week, will address building security and mental health concerns.

"When you have an incident like this that happens even in another state, it certainly causes us to look into what we're doing," McMahon said.

The first report by the task force could come within the next few weeks, Ulman said.

"Our top priority is ensuring the safety and well being of students and staff," Foose said in a statement. "This task force will allow us to take a comprehensive approach to make sure our buildings are secure and that we're providing a safe environment for our students."

While Ulman said it is the county's obligation to ensure student safety, he acknowledged preventing a school shooting like what happened in Newtown is not always possible.

"I don't know that you can ever prevent everything from happening, but you can certainly make it less likely," Ulman said. "You can improve the odds."

During the announcement, Ulman called for "common sense gun regulations" and said he would support a ban on assault weapons.

"We need to have some common sense regulations that decide that we can protect our citizen's second amendment rights while not having military-style weapons," he said.

There were no changes to school safety procedures Monday, but Howard County police did increase its presence around public and private schools, McMahon said.

"That will continue right up to the Christmas break and we'll reassess that right after the holidays," he said.

Howard County schools spent the morning reviewing safety procedures and school emergency plans..

According to numerous emails from many county schools, administrators and teachers also reviewed strategies to support students. No news of the tragedy was shared directly with students in classrooms, and students who expressed concern over Friday's events were referred to each school's Student Services Team.

Resources to help parents in conversations with their children are available on the school system's website under the heading "Keeping Schools and Our Students Safe."

In an email to parents last week, Foose said "the emotional impact of a tragedy of this nature can be tremendous for both adults and children," and outlined suggestions for parents offering support to their children. Suggestions included monitoring a child's exposure to news coverage of the events, encouraging children to express their concerns and fears and to "be available and give them extra time and attention during the next few days and weeks."

She added: "The Howard County Public School System Board ofEducation, school staff and I are keeping the families and friends of those who lost their lives in this tragic event in our thoughts."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Renee FooseKen UlmanSandy Hook Elementary School Shooting
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