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One year after Parkland shooting, what has changed about school safety in Carroll County?

One year after Parkland shooting, what has changed about school safety in Carroll County?
Master Deputy Justin Shriver, South Carroll's school resource officer, looks on as students are dismissed on the first day of school Sept. 4, 2018. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times file)

On Feb. 14, 2018, a mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, claimed the lives of 17 people. In the year since, Maryland passed the Safe to Learn Act, and Carroll County installed armed school resource officers in county high schools and continues to evaluate improvements to prevent such a tragedy from happening locally.

This past December, Duane Williams, Carroll County Public Schools supervisor of school security and emergency management, began reading through the 407-page report by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission. It contained a timeline of incidents surrounding the shooting and highlighted areas that should be improved for the Florida high school, but it also provided the valuable information to school safety professionals across the nation, said Williams.

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CCPS administration was encouraged to read the report as well, and Williams said the majority have done so. He has received feedback from many of them.

Officials have to “be careful not to knee-jerk and go off initial reporting. It often takes a while to determine what exactly were the facts involved,” Williams told the Times on Wednesday. “It behooves all involved in school safety to read [these reports], gleaning whatever lessons we can from that.”

From what Williams read, he believes that the policies that have been in place in Carroll schools surpassed what were in place at the Florida school at the time of the shooting.

For example, in Carroll, anyone has the ability to call a lockdown in a situation that calls for it. From the timeline presented in the MSD commission's report, there were times when those inside of the Florida school could have called for a lockdown, but were unable to do so.

The most visible change in Carroll County Public Schools in the past year has been addition of armed school resource officers, or SROs.

In August, the Board of Education solidified the SRO program with the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office, signing a memorandum of understanding, though deputies had been placed in schools since March as a stop-gap program following the Parkland incident and another subsequent shooting at a school in Southern Maryland.

The Maryland Safe to Learn Act, passed at the end of the 2018 Maryland legislative session and which went into effect June 1, requires either an SRO or proof of adequate law enforcement coverage for every school in the state.

Carroll County Public Schools started out the 2018-19 school year with three full-time SROs assigned to county high schools, with the others being staffed by Sheriff’s Office members on overtime assignment, and law enforcement coverage plans for the middle and elementary schools.

Now, all seven county high schools and the Gateway School, an alternative program for struggling high school youth, have a dedicated, full-time SRO on campus every school day.

Willams said the rollout of the program has been smooth, and feedback from school staff and administration has been positive.

Since the SROs have been in schools, it has “streamlined” the process of investigating threats and rumors of threats, he said.

Carroll County Sheriff Jim DeWees elaborated, saying that it’s helpful to have a deputy who is already trained in investigation to handle issues that arise. Before, Williams had to be “a one-man police department,” DeWees said, and it’s helpful for him to have seven investigation-trained deputies and two supervisors.

Over the past year, DeWees has met with parents who expressed concern about having an armed deputy on campus and he feels he has been able to calm their fears.

In his opinion, to have SROs who are not armed in the event of an active assailant is foolish.

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DeWees said he had not seen noticeable increase in the number of calls for service to the schools since the deployment of the SRO program.

The Safe to Learn Act also clarified some language about in-school drills. Carroll school have been participating in lockdown drills for a number of years, and the Safe to Learn Act specifies that schools must complete at least two active shooter drills per year.

Administration is tasked with making sure the drills are age-appropriate for students. The type of information imparted to high school students during a drill will be different than to elementary schools, Williams said.

Another new addition this year are Stop the Bleed kits that allow citizens to stop traumatic bleeding in an emergency until EMS can reach them.

All school administration has been trained in using the kits and all school staff are in the process of getting the training.

This year, during back-to-school nights with parents, Williams, the Security Advisory Council and school principals collaborated to make a presentation for parents that was received eagerly and is something they intend to bring back next year.

It informed parents about what to expect during a critical incident, some of the terminology that they might hear and what they can do to assist law enforcement.

“I believe that info is power,” Williams said. “It’s important that all of our parents are getting the same message as far as student safety.”

Following the instructions of law enforcement and administration during a critical incident is the best thing parents can do to help make the school safer, he said.

In addition to staying at the forefront of school security, mental health of students will continue to be a priority, Williams said. “To be able to provide support for a student is critical.”

In November, CCPS appointed a mental health coordinator, a position that came out of the Maryland Safe to Learn Act, that will be funded through grants from the state in its first year.

DeWees predicts that going forward, new construction of school buildings will take security into consideration with regards to entrances, making it so visitors cannot access the building without going through the front area.

CCPS has also made an effort to publicize the Safe Schools Maryland tipline, which allows people to make tips to law enforcement and schools admins anonymously if they wish and allows officials to reach back out to the tipster for more information or clarification if needed. Reports can be made 24/7 at www.safeschoolsmd.org or by calling 1-833-MD-B-SAFE.

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