Public schools safe, say reports; Violence task force notes 'minor' flaws, makes suggestions


Howard County's 65 public schools are largely secure and safe, but there is room for minor improvements, according to two reports presented to the school board yesterday.

The reports suggested several measures to help schools prevent and deal with outbursts of violence.

The reports were the result of work by a task force on violence formed last summer by the school system.

According to one of the reports, Howard County schools have good security, but there are "minor deficiencies at approximately half of the schools."

One such deficiency is the inability of front-office workers in some schools to see visitors coming through the main door. To fix the problem, the school system is applying for a grant to install closed-circuit television cameras in those 10 buildings.

The report noted that a growing number of employees are being injured because of disruptive student behavior. To reverse the trend, the school system is considering having all principals and some assistant principals receive training in either the Crisis Prevention Institute or Prevent/Action/Resolution programs.

"This will take time and training dollars, but could thwart a major outbreak of violence given the right circumstances," the report said.

In high schools, security issues and disruptive behavior take up a large amount of principals' time, "in some schools up to 25 percent a day," according to the report. It suggests hiring school-based security assistants to patrol parking lots, check locker rooms and restrooms and patrol hallways -- tasks often done by principals.

"Many of the school-based meetings are interrupted by radio transmissions or phone calls reporting trespassers, hallway disturbances or similar problems, causing the principals to issue direction to staff or investigate the problem personally," according to the report.

"Other time is spent investigating minor incidents, including reports of suspicious activity, smoking, anticipated fights or trespassers and weapons or drug violations."

Another report addressed the recommendations of the school system's violence prevention and intervention committee.

After fatal shootings in schools in Oregon, Pennsylvania and Arkansas, the county launched an initiative to reach potentially violent students and to help schools respond properly in case of an attack.

Among the 11-member committee's suggestions:

The school system should develop a clear and consistent school emergency response plan, and publish it in a condensed "flip chart" and in a detailed manual. "The emergency procedures need to address the broad spectrum of potentially violent events ranging from day-to-day disciplinary actions to the most serious incidents of violence which require outside help."

The schools should form partnerships with their communities so that violence-prevention efforts won't be isolated. Representatives from agencies such as police, social services, county health services and the county attorney's office should meet twice a year with school officials "and immediately after any serious act or threat of violence to debrief and suggest next actions."

Teachers and other staff members should receive training in defusing potentially violent incidents.

Students should be encouraged to tell adults if another child has talked about doing something harmful.

"The literature on both homicide and suicide has demonstrated that students who talk about their plans for harming self or others rarely talk to adults prior to the act," according to the report. "These students are more likely to tell another student if they tell anyone."

All schools should have walkie-talkies or cellular phones, and some schools may opt to have an on-campus police or security officer.

Also at last night's meeting, the board voted to pursue a $40,000 grant that would be used to address teacher shortage and turnover, particularly in special education. Under the grant, a special education Professional Development School would be established at Waverly Elementary School in Ellicott City. The grant proposal was developed in collaboration with Towson University.

"We think this is especially important at a time when we have a shortage of special education teachers," said Associate Superintendent Sandra J. Erickson.

Pub Date: 2/26/99

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