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More police officers, active shooter trainings considered for Howard County schools

Superintendent Michael Martirano speaks to a crowd of hundreds about new measures to heighten school security.
Superintendent Michael Martirano speaks to a crowd of hundreds about new measures to heighten school security. (Kate Magill/BSMG)

Howard County schools Superintendent Michael Martirano laid out a three-pronged approach to increase school safety and security at a meeting attended by hundreds Tuesday night.

The plan includes stricter visitor sign-in procedures and locked high school doors, enhanced active-shooter training for teachers and students and increased student mental health support.

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Martirano pledged to work with County Executive Allan Kittleman to fund police resource officers for all middle schools. All county high schools have officers and there are six resource officers across the school system’s 20 middle schools.

Locked doors and a buzzer system to let people into high school buildings will be implemented by the end of the school year, Martirano said.

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The superintendent also announced the creation of a group to study security measures and safety plans, in particular for enhancing ways to protect students with disabilities during an emergency, a topic several parents mentioned at the meeting.

Kittleman and Martirano opposed arming teachers with guns, an idea supported by President Donald Trump. Their comments were met with a round of applause from the school staff, parents and students in the audience at River Hill High School in Clarksville.

With a renewed national focus on school security, The Baltimore Sun Media Group sent more than a dozen reporters to elementary, middle and high schools in the city and surrounding counties Monday to report on whether the systems’ protocols match the reality.

Martirano urged parents to be more vigilant in their children’s lives and to monitor their social media use for disturbing posts and for signs of mental health needs or bullying.

“We all have to be disciples of keeping our children safe,” Martirano said.

A number of parents, teachers and students disagreed with the idea to increase police presence in schools. Wilde Lake High School teacher Erika Strauss-Chavarria told officials she thought the additional officers could have negative consequences for students of color.

Tom McNeal, the school system’s director of security, emergency preparedness and response, had been conducting a countywide school security assessment before a Feb. 14 deadly shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., by a former student rekindled a national debate on gun control.

McNeal said the school system receives about two threats a month, but that most cases are “foolish” social media posts by students. Frank Eastham, chief school management and instructional leadership officer, said that when officials learn of threats, they are immediately investigated and assessed for their level of severity.

Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin visited Wilde Lake High School on Friday to discuss school safety and gun control with students.

Carly Gouring, a freshman at Marriotts Ridge High School in Marriottsville, attended the meeting with her mother Sheryl Gouring and sister Olivia Gouring.

Carly Gouring, 15, said it was a positive step to know officials are trying to make changes, but that she worried their plans would be slow to be implemented. She wants enhanced active shooter training that includes not only how to hide during an emergency, but when and how to run or fight, as outlined in FBI guidelines.

Sheryl Gouring said she too worried that plans wouldn’t move fast enough. She wants to see increased mental health awareness and education at all ages.

Walkouts are being planned at high schools across the country, including several in Howard County, on March 14 to demand stricter gun control.

Howard school officials have emphasized their support for students’ right to protest and Martirano restated his support during the meeting.

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