The days of simply entering a Carroll County Public School and signing in at the office during a visit will end at the start of next year, when new security restrictions are put in place to control visitor access.
The school system will spend $1.4 million of state and county money over the summer to install new security features that are meant to monitor who enters the buildings. The security features will create a single point of entry in all schools, requiring visitors to be seen on a surveillance camera and identify themselves with an intercom before school staff can buzz them into the buildings, according to Jon O'Neal, assistant superintendent of administration for schools.
Schools will also have a visitor management system that keeps track of all visitors. Once they are buzzed into the schools, visitors will sign in using a computer, have their driver's license scanned and be given a time-sensitive badge, O'Neal said.
The badge will be be printed with disappearing ink, which means that the information on the badge will disappear by a certain time and visitors will have to get a new badge if they stay longer than expected.
The state set aside $817,000 for school security projects following the 2012 shooting of 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The county and school system allocated $325,000 and $270,000, respectively, in 2013.
Although money for the capital projects was allocated after the Sandy Hook tragedy, O'Neal said the new security features are not just about preventing another similar situation.
"All of our security measures ... are designed to be reasonable security measures that put some barriers in place to help mitigate situations like [Sandy Hook], but also a system like this lets us know who is in our building, why they are there and where they are in the building," O'Neal said. "If there's a fire or if there's a less severe event, we'll have a clear account of who is in our school at that moment."
The Carroll County Board of Commissioners voted 3-1 Tuesday to allow the school system to adjust its budget to pay for the security improvements. Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier, R-District 1, voted against the budget adjustment and Commissioner Richard Rothschild, R-District 4, did not attend the meeting and could not vote on the proposal.
Frazier said she didn't agree with the school system's security plans. Being in school shouldn't feel like being in jail, she said.
"I'd rather the children not be afraid of who might be lurking out there. I'd rather the people lurking out there be afraid to come to our schools," Frazier said Tuesday. "I'm not sure this approach does that."
Frazier did not return multiple phone calls by Friday afternoon to explain her position or explain her ideas on school security.
O'Neal stressed the point that the new security measures were not simply developed by staff, but were the culmination of work by school officials, a community security advisory committee and security consultants. The security measures, he said, strike a balance between providing protection for schools and not making them inaccessible to parents.
Skyline Technology Solutions, located in Glen Burnie, will spend the summer installing the new security features, according to Ray Prokop, director of facilities for the school system. The company had previously installed surveillance systems at Carroll schools. The security systems will be uniform across all 43 schools, Prokop said.
The school system has scheduled a one-day training session for all teachers and staff on the new security features to make sure they know what to do in the case of an emergency. During the training session, staff will learn how to approach visitors, where they should go to sign in and how the new system works.
Aside from the new security features, O'Neal said the school system will be reviewing its emergency protocols and performing lockdown drills to improve its emergency response.
"This is one part of a much bigger picture," O'Neal said. "There are a lot of things you do to prevent and mitigate [issues] and increase security."