Howard school safety task force issues preliminary recommendations

Days after the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Howard County government and school officials announced the convening of a task force aimed at making schools safer.

Now, Howard County Public School System staff have outlined nearly a dozen recommendations that, they said, will do just that.

"At the beginning of our process, we took about two months to review the state of the schools' emergency plans, and the ... environment in schools and the community," said Bill Ryan, the school system's executive director of school improvement and administration, and a chair of one of the task force's three sub-committees.

"Our partnerships are some of the most important things we have. ... From all our safety partners, from the government to the community, from private schools to faith-based organizations, all support us in the task of keeping our community and schools safe."

Ryan, along with Acting Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer Ken Roey — who is a chair of another task force sub-committee — presented the task force's preliminary recommendations to the Howard County Board of Education at its meeting Tuesday, March 12.

The final report will be made public Monday, March 18, with a news conference at Thunder Hill Elementary School in Columbia.

The task force, convened in partnership by the school system and county government and police, looked at three areas: the physical security of, and security protocols in, county schools, emergency response planning, and safe and nurturing schools and community.

Board members lauded the preliminary report. Ellen Giles said it was an example of "moving forward," made up of many connected pieces, rather than simply being a reaction to a tragedy.

"I think as we get a chance to see these strategies in the report itself, it'll help people get a picture of how we support our community and our children," she said.

The 11 recommendations are:

* Improve the physical security features of schools across the county

* Strengthen school security practices at all schools and ensure consistency in implementation across the school system.

* Ensure that all school personnel are trained at least annually on its specific emergency response plan

* Non-school users of the school facilities must be familiar with each school's emergency plan

* Non-public schools need to have effective emergency response plans for their schools. As with public schools, responsible parties must be trained on plans, and the plans must be exercised

* Ensure post-incident resources are available for survivors, victim's families, police and emergency staff

* Ensure community recovery is considered in development community emergency response plans

* Improve communication to ensure parents, students and the community are aware of the school system efforts to create positive school cultures in each building

* Incorporate a school climate focus area into each school's improvement planning process

* Increase communication to staff, parents, students and the community regarding mental health access and supports available both in the school and in the community

* Provide professional learning to school staff that supports students' social and emotional well-being, demystifies mental health concerns, and identifies available school and community resources

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