Anticipating an anxious first day for Perry Hall High students

When students return to Perry Hall High School for the first day of school Aug. 27, they will find new safety measures in place, as well as an opportunity to get psychological counseling.

"We know the anxiety is going to go up," said Principal George A. Roberts on Thursday.

The school has applied for, and received, a federal grant to help students, staff and faculty who may have emotional needs as they enter the building nearly a year to the day after a student opened fire in the cafeteria, seriously injuring another student.

The injured student, Daniel Borowy, is physically healed and is expected to be back in school. The shooter, Robert W. Gladden Jr., who was 15 at the time, was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

The funding for counseling comes from the U.S. Department of Education and is granted to schools that have experienced a violent or traumatic event. Roberts said counseling will be available on the first day and for as long as it is needed.

Since the shooting, the Baltimore County school system has moved to put in a number of safety measures designed to cut down on the access visitors have to school buildings.

In February, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz allocated and the County Council approved $3.7 million for the first part of a two-phase school security initiative. A school system request for the $2.5 million second phase is pending. Officials say both phases will be installed in all of the county's 107 elementary, 27 middle, 25 high and four special-needs schools.

When school opens this month, Perry Hall faculty and staff will carry uniform identification. Identification cards for students will be phased in the following year.

In addition, visitors to Perry Hall and other schools will be required to present a driver's license when they enter the building. The license will be scanned and, within seconds, staff will know if the person has a criminal history related to sex abuse. Those approved for access will be given a large visitor identification tag to wear as they go through the building.

Many middle and high schools in the county have kept doors locked but allow visitors access after they have been cleared by a staff member in the front office. The visitor hits a buzzer, and staff can look at the visitor via a camera and then unlock the door electronically.

That buzzer system is being installed in all elementary schools as well as other schools, including Perry Hall, that did not have it already. Perry Hall has a new 42-inch TV screen in the office used to monitor the front door.

Perry Hall, the largest school in Baltimore County, has had two police officers in the building during school hours.

Roberts said he has focused on building relationships with students so they will tell an adult in the building when they believe another student may be "crying out for help."

Safety has become a primary focus for him, more important even than instruction, he said.

"Students can't learn if they don't feel safe. A teacher can't teach if they don't feel safe," he said.

Baltimore Sun Media Group reporters Nelson Coffin and Barbara Pash contributed to this article.

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