Carroll to set guidelines for evacuations

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Carroll County school officials will develop countywide emergency evacuation guidelines in response to parents who complained that Westminster High's policy requires disabled children be taken to a stairwell to wait for firefighters while other students leave the building, schools Superintendent Charles I. Ecker said yesterday.

"We're going to develop some countywide guidelines, which we do not have at this point, to assist schools," Ecker said at a news conference. "Each school has to develop its own emergency evacuation plan, depending on the facility."

The guidelines, Ecker said, will be developed in consultation with local fire officials and associations that serve severely disabled people.

In addition, Westminster High's principal, John Seaman, has formed a committee to review the school's policy.

The school's committee - which will include parents, special-education representatives from the county and the school and a member of the Westminster Fire Department - will hold its first meeting at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday at Westminster High, Seaman said.

Results from that committee are expected in a matter of weeks, Ecker said.

The actions came in response to parents who questioned the school's policy after a fire was set in a trash can in a second-floor boys' restroom Dec. 21.

Although the school system will create guidelines to help schools develop their policies, Ecker said the actions taken by the staff at Westminster High last month were appropriate.

"It is fairly normal procedure [to take] individuals that are less mobile than others" to stairwells during an evacuation because they are less likely to catch fire, Ecker said.

Ecker said the policy at Westminster High - a three-story building with about 1,800 students, three of whom are disabled and unable to walk out of the building on their own - is similar to policies at other Carroll County schools with multistory buildings.

He also said the Westminster Fire Department, which reviews school evacuation policies annually, is aware of Westminster High's plan.

"We have no problem with their plan," said Kevin Utz, Westminster's fire chief. "It seems very reasonable to us."

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