Maryland school security: Here's what we learned in visiting 18 schools
The Baltimore Sun|
Feb 27, 2018 at 1:45 PM
The Baltimore Sun Media Group sent reporters and videographers to several local schools to get a sense of security procedures throughout our coverage area. (Baltimore Sun video)
If a visitor goes to a public school in the Baltimore region, they’ll more often than not encounter a video-and-buzzer system to gain entrance.
Whether they actually converse with a staff member and are compelled to identify themselves before getting in the front doors is another question altogether.
Once in the building, they’ll probably be directed to a front office to be greeted and vetted by a staffer. But it’s not a sure bet.
Those were some of the findings from a sampling of schools The Baltimore Sun visited Monday. In the wake of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting, The Sun undertook a project to get a snapshot of security procedures at schools throughout our region.
We sent 18 reporters and several photographers to schools around the Baltimore area — reporting at three representative schools in all the districts in and around Baltimore. We wanted to report beyond what districts say their security protocols are — we wanted to test and convey what those security protocols are in real life. What does a visitor encounter? What signage, directives and personnel guide and vet visitors at the school?
At Annapolis Elementary School, visitors must stand before a camera and press a button to be recognized via intercom -- whether at the main entrance or a rear entrance off a large parking area.
Several signs direct anyone trying to enter the building to follow the procedure. Additional signs on the entry doors declare: “All parents, visitors, substitutes, delivery personnel, and BOE employees must enter through the front door for Security Check-in at all times before entering the building. This is for the safety and security of our students and staff. Thank you.”
Add a large “No Trespassing” sign to the exterior system postings, and several security cameras are installed about 20 feet or so off the ground around the building.
The building is Anne Arundel County’s oldest school building, constructed in 1895. It is located on a sidestreet in the historic downtown area, just a few steps off the road. It is just a few blocks from the State House.
Monday morning a reporter followed the procedure and was buzzed into the building without being asked to identify himself.
Once inside, there are a few steps up to the front office door, located outside a bank of doors allowing entrance to the rest of the building. Those were locked.
In the front office, a person receiving visitors was asked if principal Bobbie Kesecker was available to speak to the reporter.
The person called back to Kesecker, then asked if we had made arrangements with the school system public information officer, Robert J. Mosier. She was told no, and then informed about the paper’s effort to check schools in the county and elsewhere.
She said the journalist would need to clear it with Mosier. The reporter left the office and exited the building.
— E.B. Furgurson III, Baltimore Sun Media Group
At Brooklyn Park Middle School, a sign at the front entrance instructs visitors to ring a buzzer, stand in a marked box and "look at the intercom to be acknowledged." A camera allows administrators in the main office inside to address whoever is standing outside.
The entrance to the school is located a dozen yards from Hammonds Lane, a side street off Ritchie Highway. It occupies renovated space in a high school building constructed in the 1950s, opening in 2000.
A reporter visiting Monday morning rang the bell and was asked to state her business. She was allowed inside to wait for Principal Helen Shakan. The door opens to the school, with a closed-off administrative office to the right. The reporter went unescorted to the office.
In the office, the administrative assistant radioed for Shakan. Shakan radioed back, declining to comment on security procedure. The reporter left.
— Danielle Ohl, Baltimore Sun Media Group
An Anne Arundel County police car was parked outside Severna Park High School Monday morning.
In addition to a security camera near the bus loop, the main school entrance was flanked by cameras and equipped with a video-enabled doorbell that allows staff members to see and hear who is trying to enter the school. The school opened in January 2017.
There are three signs near the far right door of the front entrance. The first lists the school’s office hours. The second says “Welcome to Severna Park High School please ring doorbell,” with a big red arrow pointing to a video-enabled doorbell on the adjacent wall. The third welcomes visitors and lets them know that all visitors must report to the main office.
When a reporter tried the door Monday at 10 a.m., it was locked. After ringing the video-enabled doorbell and asking to speak with the school principal about security, she was told to enter the school through the door on the right and come to the main office.
She went through the door, into a secure vestibule, then immediately to the right where the entrance to the main office was located.
Once inside, she approached a secretary who directed her to wait in a set of chairs for the principal’s secretary, who directed her to contact the communications director for county schools. As she waited, several other people entered the school. Several appeared to be a students and one was an adult — everyone used the same system, asking to be buzzed in, entering the main office first and then going into the school building itself through a separate door in the office.
— Rachael Pacella, Baltimore Sun Media Group
District response: Training is very important to Doyle Batten, supervisor of school security for Anne Arundel County Public Schools. There is a balance to be struck, Batten said. Schools aren’t prisons, and they should be both safe and welcoming. If a person doesn’t go to the office after being buzzed in, the proper protocol is for an employee to politely ask how they can be helped.
His goal, he said, is to shorten the reactionary gap between seeing a problem, recognizing it as a problem and making an emergency declaration, he said.
“Our role is to empower and instill confidence,” Batten said.
For more on safety at Arundel schools, click here.
A door at a student entrance at Frederick Douglass High School was propped open at 10 a.m. Monday. But before a Sun reporter and photographer could walk in, Principal Kelvin Bridgers spotted them and interrupted a call on his cellphone to call them over to the school’s main entrance nearby.
Bridgers held the door open for the journalists, who were wearing their press badges around their necks. Once inside, they were greeted by a school employee at a front desk in the main lobby, who directed them to the administrative office, about eight steps from the front door.
Upon asking someone in the office for the principal, they were referred to the man who’d just let them into the building.
Bridgers said he’d be happy to schedule an interview to discuss the school’s security measures, which he said are among the best of any school in the district. Douglass has had metal detectors since before he was named principal, Bridgers said.
He directed an administrator in the office to take down the reporter and photographer’s names and contact information, and to email the school district’s spokeswoman to authorize an interview.
The Sun journalists never reached the propped-open student door to observe what security measures lay beyond it. While the principal allowed them inside the main door without asking for identification, and they were not prompted to show it at the office, as required by City Schools protocol, they left after speaking with the administrators and were never unsupervised inside the building during the roughly 10-minute visit.
— Colin Campbell, The Baltimore Sun
A reporter and photographer stopped by Roland Park Elementary/Middle School during recess on a mild late winter day.
The school is located in an elegant building that’s nearly 100 years old and set back from busy Roland Avenue. Visitors who approach the school must climb 33 stone steps and proceed down a long walkway. When they reach the brown brick facade, they’re confronted by a series of about half a dozen blue doors; three on the ground level along Deepdene St. and three or four on the upper level facing Roland Ave.
All three lower doors were locked, though children who were supervised by two adults ran in and out of several of the upper doors. An approaching reporter was promptly and courteously stopped by one of the grown-ups who asked, “Can I help you?” The door on the far right contained a sign reading, “All visitors must proceed to the office before visiting in the building.”
That door also was locked; a buzzer was located to the far left. The reporter and photographer, who were wearing press badges, were buzzed in without having to state their names or purpose. The office is located roughly 30 feet down the hallway.
But before one gets to the office, a long hallway intersects from the left. And next to the entrance is a table containing a few dozen trophies that appear to be heavy.
After reaching the office, school staff phoned the principal, Nicholas D'Ambrosio, who came to meet the journalists. Though no security cameras were observed outside the building, D’Ambrosio said that several are in place throughout the school. He then referred further inquiries to the district public relations spokeswoman.
— Mary Carole McCauley, The Baltimore Sun
Fort Worthington Elementary/Middle opened in September in East Baltimore’s Clifton-Berea neighborhood. It’s just south of the Baltimore Cemetery and several blocks south of Clifton Park. The new school sits just off the road on Hoffman Street, between Lakewood and Kenhill avenues.
Visitors must dial a buzzer that has a camera to get into the locked school. When a reporter walked up to the entrance of the school around 10 a.m. Monday, a young student, who walked up to the entrance at the same time, opened the front door for the reporter. It wasn’t clear if the door was unlocked for the student or the reporter or both. Inside, a second main door is locked.
The boy opened a second door for the reporter to the right of the entrance that leads to the main office. It’s about 12 feet from the front doors to the desk in the front office.A woman behind the front desk greeted the reporter.
When the reporter asked for a principal to speak about security at the school, the reporter was asked to wait in the front lobby. On the desk was a “sign-in” sheet, but the reporter wasn’t asked to sign in or show her identification. The reporter was wearing her press badge on her chest.
The school’s principal, Monique N. Debi, came to the front office and directed the reporter to the school system’s communications department when asked about security procedures at the school.
There were no visible school police or Baltimore City police officers on Hoffman Street or immediately visible in front of the school. The signs on the front door outside the school provided very specific instructions for parents who might be trying to pick up students.: “The main entrance on Hoffman Street will not be used for entry and dismissal due to limited space on the sidewalk. It is our goal to keep our children safe at all times! We will use the Oliver Street side for entry.”
The sign also advised that doors will be locked to all parents, “scholars” and visitors, and directs them to the Hoffman Street entrance after 8:10 a.m. By 2:40 p.m., after general dismissal, all visitors are again funneled to the same entrance on Hoffman Street. “Parents will have to present proper identification at this time,” the sign reads.
— Jessica Anderson, The Baltimore Sun
District response: Anne Fullerton, a spokeswoman for Baltimore City Schools, said schools need to draw a balance between keeping out threats and allowing in visitors. “We need our schools to be welcoming to the school community,” she said. “We have parents and volunteers and partners who are in our building and we carefully track all of them.”
Still, she said, “security is incredibly important to us.” Fullerton said that anytime a buzzer is present in a school building, there’s also a video camera. That means anyone who’s buzzed in is seen by staff before they’re allowed in. “If they don’t go to the office, that’s visible to people,” she said. “The entrances are monitored both by the buzzers and by cameras.”
At Catonsville Elementary School — which opened in a renovated, 1925-era building on Bloomsbury Avenue in 2016 — visitors at the front door are greeted by a buzzer with a camera attached.
“Please ring the bell, face the camera and state your business,” a sign next to the buzzer says. “Doors will open automatically, please stand back.”
There are no handles on the outside of the locked doors — instead, the doors swing out mechanically after the administrative office approves the visitor. There is a scanner with which a staff member can open the door using her ID.
When a reporter stopped by the school Monday and identified herself through the intercom, a staff member buzzed her into the entry vestibule. From there, rather than enter through the main doors directly ahead, she entered the administration office through a side door about fifteen feet from the entrance.
The reporter asked to speak to the principal, but was told the principal was unavailable and given the number for the central communications office. The reporter was inside the school for less than two minutes, and was not issued a badge or let into the main building.
— Libby Solomon, Baltimore Sun Media Group
At Northwest Academy of Health and Sciences (which opened in 1966 as Old Court Middle School) there was an unmanned Baltimore County police car parked next to the building. There are two visible cameras on the approach to the front entrance — one facing out from the front of the building, the other facing the doors.
A reporter and photographer rang the buzzer and were told to open the door before identifying themselves.
They entered the main office. No visible signs directed visitors to the office. There was a sign-in sheet but the visitors were not asked to sign it. A large screen inside the office displayed six locations monitored outside the building.
The journalists identified themselves as staff from The Baltimore Sun Media Group, and asked to speak with an administrator.
Shortly after, the principal, Dr. Katrina Webster, came to the front desk and said she would have to talk to her supervisor. She never returned, but the reporters were told to contact an administration spokesman to discuss school security. They were provided a phone number and left the building.
— Craig Clary, Baltimore Sun Media Group
At Dundalk High School, a Baltimore County police car was parked on the walkway. Visitors are instructed to sign in at the administrative office with an ID after being buzzed in to the four-year-old brick and glass building.
The school — which since 2010 shares space with Sollers Point Technical High School, a half-day technical center — neighbors the Community College of Baltimore County.
After entering through the front doors into a vestibule, two staff members seated directly in front of the entrance to the high schools direct visitors to the corresponding schools' administrative offices.
In the Dundalk High office, about 100 feet from the entrance on the east side of the building, visitors are asked to provide identification, which is scanned and entered into a computer. A photo from the license is used to make an adhesive badge.
Upon requesting to meet with an administrator, the reporter was directed to submit questions to the county’s central communications office. The reporter left through the main entrance wearing the sticker badge.
— Margarita Cambest, Baltimore Sun Media Group
District response: Baltimore County Public Schools Chief of Staff Mychael Dickerson said “the appropriate protocol is to ask visitors to identify themselves and their business in the school before buzzing them in.”
“We believe most of our schools follow protocols and procedures but we are concerned when visitors are allowed in without identification at any of our locations,” Dickerson wrote in an emailed statement. “We will follow up with administrators for additional training as we are made aware of failure of staff to follow protocol.”
Dickerson said the system reviews its security protocols annually.
Century High School was built in 2001, and is located on Rondale Road, just off Liberty Road (Md. 26). It’s roughly 3.5 miles from the intersection of Md. 26 and Md. 32, which represents the heart of Eldersburg, and is where the Carroll County Sheriff’s Southern Office is located.
When the reporter approached, he noticed at least one camera on the outside corner of the building by the walkway to the front door, roughly 50 feet from the entrance. To the left of the front door, there was a intercom with a camera. A permanent sign instructed visitors to “Please press button on intercom for assistance. … All visitors proceeding beyond the front office will be required to provide photo identification.”
Below the same message is posted in Spanish.
The reporter buzzed and heard the door unlock, but no one spoke to him on the intercom. He proceeded into the vestibule, noting another paper sign there stating all visitors should report to the main office. To the left, windows allow administrators in the main office a clear view into the vestibule. To the right, one could presumably go to classrooms; it did not appear visually there would be anything stopping a visitor, but it would be in clear view of the main office.
It was about 12 steps from the first door to the main office, located immediately to the left in the main lobby. The admin at the desk directly next to the front door greeted the reporter, who identified himself and stated he was from the Carroll County Times, and wished to speak with Principal Troy Barnes regarding school security.
The admin informed him that Mr. Barnes was in a meeting and couldn’t speak with him now. She took his information, noting his ID badge around his neck, which lists his given first name, not his middle name which he goes by, and his phone number.
The admin also asked whether the reporter had already contacted Central Office and advised that he might have better luck speaking with the Director of School Security Duane Williams.
Upon leaving, the reporter drove around the school, which has three sides visible from Ronsdale Road, noting that there appeared to be security cameras at every entryway and in other corners of the building.
Sheriff Jim DeWees recently told the Carroll County Times he would have deputies “in and out” of county schools in light of recent events.
— Wayne Carter, Baltimore Sun Media Group
A Carroll County Times reporter, with a photo press ID prominently displayed, approached the main entrance to East Middle School in Westminster at 10 a.m. Monday. A staffer arrived at the front door just before the reporter, looked at the reporter’s ID and photo, asked the reporter if he needed to speak with someone and let the reporter in.
The main entrance is equipped with a camera and buzzer system with instructions in English and Spanish on how visitors should proceed. Office personnel are able to view feeds from the camera and also have visual access to anyone who comes to the front door. The main office is up some stairs, fewer than 20 steps from the front door.
The staff member escorted the reporter up the steps to the office and asked his purpose, which was to speak with Principal Jamie Carver, but without an appointment. The reporter was told the principal was in a meeting and not available. The reporter held a short conversation with a member of the staff and noted that during that time two people came to the front entrance, were asked their names and purpose for coming to the school, and were then buzzed in.
Reached later by phone, Carver said he would’ve preferred that the reporter wait at the front entrance to be buzzed in by office personnel, but that he was satisfied at having a member of the school staff make a visual identification with photo ID before allowing a visitor in -- but only a staff member. He said he and his teachers frequently remind students not to hold open the door and let anyone into the school, even if it seems rude.
After entering through the main door, it would be possible to exit to a stairway and bypass the office to get into other areas of the school. But that would immediately be noted by office staff. At that point, Carver said, if the person was known to the staff, a frequent parent volunteer for example, a staff member would find the person and bring them to the office to sign in. If it was a person unknown to office personnel, the decision could be made to immediately press a button and put the school on lockdown. Also, occasionally individuals are placed on lists barring their entry, such as in cases of a court order involving custody of a student.
East Middle, built in 1936 as the second incarnation of Westminster High School and renovated in 1975, is located in downtown Westminster. The Westminster Police Department’s Office is less than a quarter-mile away.
The school is largely surrounded by a chain-link fence. Only two side doors are accessible without getting past the fence. Those doors, as with all doors at the school, are locked so that no one without an access badge for electronic entry can get in from the outside, according to Carver.
Carver said the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida, prompted school personnel to re-evaluate all the security measures they have in place, to reiterate all policies and procedures to students and to emphasize the need for checking photo IDs and asking visitors for their purpose of coming to the school. Carver also noted there are things he would like to see changed, such as the type of glass in some of the windows.
Carver conceded that “no system is 100 percent foolproof.” But he said he thinks the safeguards in place do what they are intended to do in terms of making sure the staff knows who is coming into the school and why and, in the event of a worst-case scenario, slowing down and frustrating potential perpetrators.
— Bob Blubaugh, Baltimore Sun Media Group
Elmer Wolfe Elementary School, built in 1998, sits off North Main Street in Union Bridge, near a residential area. Behind the school are trees and open space, the front and left side surrounded by parking lots. On both of those sides, cameras line the walls.
The whole building sits about a mile from the Union Bridge Vol. Fire Co. and about a half a mile from center of the town of less than 1,000 residents.
On a Monday morning at 10 a.m., a reporter approached the school, with the reporter’s badge displayed on a lanyard, a photographer in tow.
In walking up, a reporter pushed the buzzer on the intercom system, which is mounted on the wall to the left of the door, just below a camera.
Next to the camera and intercom there’s a sign written in both English and Spanish. It reads: “Welcome to Elmer Wolfe Elementary School. Visitors: Please press the button on the intercom for assistance. If there is no response, please call the main office at 410-751-3307. All visitors proceeding beyond the front office will be required to provide photo identification.”
After pressing the buzzer, the reporter was let in, without any questioning. It’s about 10 steps from the front door and buzzer to the front office. The reporter spoke with a secretary and identified herself, before asking to speak with either the principal or assistant principal.
The secretary made a phone call, and the reporter and photographer sat in the front office until Assistant Principal Katie Finneran came out.
Upon explaining the reason for the visit, and asking to talk about school security procedures, Finneran asked if the Carroll County Times had spoken to Carroll County Public School Supervisor of School Security and Emergency Management Duane Williams. When told no, Finneran left to make a phone call, leaving the reporter and photographer alone.
When she returned a few minutes later, she directed the reporter to speak with CCPS spokeswoman Carey Gaddis. Both the reporter and photographer left.
— Emily Chappell, Baltimore Sun Media Group
District response: In the wake of the Florida shooting, there have not been any systemwide changes in Carroll County other than reinforcing the policies.
Duane Williams, Carroll County Public Schools’ Supervisor of School Security and Emergency Management, said that if there are discrepancies in how schools handle security protocol, he follows up with the individual school staff.
“There’s always a human element,” he said.
He did not indicate there would be any specific changes as a result of Monday’s checks.
In Harford County a reporter set out to visit Havre de Grace High School Monday morning. But the school and police reported that they were investigating a social media-based threat to the school. Upon learning of the threat, the reporter instead visited Aberdeen High School.
An Aberdeen Police car parked outside the main entrance to the 14-year-old building announces to the presence of a resource police officer.
A sign warns visitors that video surveillance is in use, and yellow and blue signage — the school colors — direct visitors that they must report to the main office. Visitors must ring a doorbell — part of an intercom system — for entry.
On first attempt, the doorbell didn’t work. Moments later, a clicking sound indicated the door was being unlocked. The reporter opened the door and walked in, to find a second set of doors, complete with another bell and intercom, about eight feet inside the main entryway.
The reporter tried the doors, found one to be open and walked into the school.
Once inside, the entrance to the main office is about 10 feet away, on the left. On the right is the school’s gymnasium. A hallway straight ahead leads to the cafeteria.
The reporter walked into the office, and identified himself to a secretary who immediately greeted him. The reporter asked to speak with the principal, and was told he was unavailable.
The staffer asked the reporter for his name and a message, and the reporter said it wouldn’t be necessary.
The reporter turned to leave the office when the resource officer appeared and asked for identification and why the reporter didn’t want to provide his name. The officer checked the reporter’s press pass and driver’s license, announced his name and affiliation to the office staff, and returned his credentials. The reporter then left.
— Ted Hendricks, Baltimore Sun Media Group
Signs are posted at side entrances and the front entrance to Southampton Middle Schoolin Bel Air, warning visitors to the Moores Mill Road campus that they are under video surveillance, and that they “may be subject to search or scan by metal detectors.”
A reporter parked in the side lot shortly before 10 a.m. Monday and walked to the front entrance, observing security signage, a school bus parked out front and other visitors to the school, which opened in 1970.
The reporter pressed the buzzer and while waiting, tried opening one of the front doors – it was locked. A camera is also overhead.
A young man was with the reporter at the entrance. He did not hit the buzzer, but opened the door when an office staffer announced over the PA system that it was unlocked. The young man held the door for the reporter who walked in behind him.
No one greeted the reporter in the entrance, where students and staff could be seen walking about. There were no metal detectors.
The reporter turned to the right, following a sign to the main office and entered. About two to three staffers could be seen in the office, helping other adults.
A staffer approached the reporter after a few moments and asked if she could help him. The reporter told her he was from The Aegis, displayed his Baltimore Sun Media Group security badge clipped to his shirt, and asked to see the principal for a story on school security.
The staffer asked the reporter to sit and wait as she located the principal. She did not ask for any further identification, and the reporter did not receive a visitor’s badge.
The reporter sat and made notes while waiting for the principal. The staffer could be heard calling for him over the radio/PA system.
Principal Charles Hagan arrived after a short wait and asked if he could help the reporter. He showed the reporter back to his office, where the reporter explained the purpose of his visit.
Hagan referred the reporter to either the manager of communications or head of safety and security for the school system.
— David Anderson, Baltimore Sun Media Group
The first half of Youth’s Benefit Elementary School opened in at the start of the 2016-17 school year, the second half this past November. There is still site work to be done as the second of the two old buildings, which is close to where the new building’s main entrance is located, was just demolished in November.
A reporter was buzzed in to YBES without question and went to the office, right inside the front door — there are no signs around the property and determining what door to go to is a challenge. Many classrooms have outer doors.
The front door opens into a vestibule — there is a door straight ahead that goes to a lobby where an adult and child sat talking. The office is immediately to the right, with a glass front, where an office staff member waved the reporter in and offered him a seat upon asking to speak with an administrator. The reporter was not asked to sign in or show identification.
The administrator referred the reporter to the spokesperson for the school system, and the reporter left.
— Allan Vought, Baltimore Sun Media Group
District response: Jillian Lader, a Harford County Schools spokeswoman, said that the school system has begun an evaluation of their safety and security processes and formed a task force to review the issue.
“There are security cameras at the front door of each school. Showing ID at the door would not be beneficial as the details would not be legible.” Instead, visitors are asked to verbally identify themselves. Upon entering, she said, they must provide identification and be checked into a visitor management system.
The Harford County Sheriff’s Office is hosting a “Public Discussion on School Safety” Thursday night in Bel Air. All the available tickets have been reserved for the forum, in which local residents can express their concerns and ideas about improving school safety following the deadly school shooting in Florida.
At Elkridge Elementary School, there are two sets of doors entering the school. The first set is unlocked, while the second set is locked. On the right wall after entering through the first set of doors is a call button to the front office, along with a badge scanner for employees. Above, on the ceiling of the 26-year-old school, is a security camera.
After pushing the button, a buzzer sounded and the second set of doors opened. There was no verbal communication. The front office is down the hall, about 50 feet on the right past a lengthy wall — with a cafeteria situated to the left. On the ceiling right before reaching the front office is another security camera.
Upon entering the front office, a staffer greeted the reporter and referred him to the a computer to sign in using a valid driver's license. While signing in, the staff member asked if the reporter had an appointment. The staffer said the principal was unavailable, and an assistant principal deferred questions to the county schools administration.
— Brent Kennedy, Baltimore Sun Media Group
Harper’s Choice Middle School in Columbia has multiple security cameras hanging over the front and side entrances. The front entrance consists of three sets of double doors and two signs to the right of those doors. One states the school — which opened in 1973 — is a tobacco free environment, while the other has information about the use of school property.
On the doors are two signs, one notifying visitors about security cameras and the other welcoming parents and other visitors to enter the main office for assistance. Anyone entering without “legitimate business” is trespassing.
A reporter visited the school Monday morning and immediately saw a black police car parked next to the front entrance. A police officer entered the vehicle and left the parking lot.
Upon approaching the front entrance, the reporter found the left and middle sets of doors were locked, but those on the right side were unlocked. Once inside the foyer, there are three more sets of locked double doors about 15 steps away that lead inside the school.
On the right side is the administrative office. The reporter pressed the buzzer, and an administrator unlocked the door. He walked up to the principal’s secretary, explaining The Baltimore Sun Media Group was working on a project about local school security and asked to speak with Principal Adam Eldridge. No one in the office asked for photo identification.
A staffer said the principal was unavailable, and asked for the reporter’s contact information. The reporter provided the information and left the school.
— Kyle Stackpole, Baltimore Sun Media Group
At River Hill High School, the police liaison officer’s car has his own parking spot in the bus loop near the front entrance. Two security cameras hang above the front entrance and a small sign on the front door tells visitors “SMILE! Video Cameras in Use.” The front door of the 22-year-old school was unlocked and a sign on a second set of doors read: “Welcome to the ‘HOME OF THE HAWKS’ All VISITORS must report To the Main Office to Receive a Visitor Pass. Thank You!”
The second doors were unlocked, leading to a lobby area. A sign in the lobby said, “All visitors are REQUIRED to sign in and out at the front office.”
In the lobby area, two hallways are straight ahead, and the front office was only about 10-15 feet to the right through the second set of doors.
A school employee in the front office greeted the reporter upon entering and asked the reporter to sign in, what the reasoning for the visit was and whom the reporter would like to visit with. The reporter asked to meet with the school’s principal, Kathryn McKinley, to discuss security measures at the school.
To sign in electronically, you must go through several steps. The visitor must type in whom they plan to visit, then take a photo using the touch screen and a camera attached to it. The third step requires a scan of the visitors’ drivers’ license. A sticker is printed with the visitor’s picture on the left and their name at the top. The sticker is to be worn on your person in plain sight.
The reporter was told that McKinley was unavailable, and was then referred to the school system’s communications or security departments. The reporter was asked to sign out by scanning the badge, and then left the building.
— Tim Schwartz, Baltimore Sun Media Group
District response: Howard County Public Schools spokesman Brian Bassett on Tuesday afternoon released a statement to The Sun, underscoring that Superintendent Michael J. Martirano has “made clear that safety is our top priority because children can't be expected to thrive academically if their needs aren't being met or they feel unsafe.”
He pointed to Martirano’s efforts to task student services staff with identifying and lining up services for students with mental health issues, and to establish an Office of Safety and Security, stating, “While we aim to make schools welcoming places for our students, staff and community, it is important that clear policies and procedures are in place and school staff understand and are following best practices for ensuring school safety.”
He also pointed to an emphasis on collaboration with the community. To that end, Howard schools are holding a School Safety Forum at 7 p.m. Tuesday at River Hill High, when school safety procedures, entrance procedures, measures schools are taking or will take, as well as mental health issues will be discussed. The county executive, police chief, fire chief and superintendent are expected to attend.
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