In second school safety meeting, Towson High community grills officials on progress

In February, the day after a mass shooter killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Towson High School junior Hope Steger, 16, was sitting in chemistry class when someone dropped a binder. She screamed – it sounded like a gunshot.

“They’ve started to call our generation the mass shooting generation,” Steger, of Wiltondale, said Monday night. “Lucky us,” she added drily.

That anxiety drove the discussion at Monday night’s community meeting about safety at Towson High School, the second in less than a month. About 18 people attended the meeting at First Lutheran Church in Towson.

“There is this anxiety I’m hearing, from my daughter, my daughter’s friends. They fear school shootings,” said Phoebe Evans-Letocha, whose daughter attends Towson High School.

Pat France, a meeting organizer and vice president of Towson Area Citizens On Patrol, said the second meeting was to follow up on what school leaders said they would do in the Oct. 29 meeting, to “hold them accountable.”

At that first meeting, Steger told officials: “I’d only like a promise if I know it’s going to be kept.” After the second, she said, her thoughts were mixed.

Central school system officials toured Towson High School, Steger said, and soon after new security measures were implemented — like a sign-in table for students entering and exiting outside of normal start and dismissal times near the school’s rear entrance.

But faulty lines of communication lead to conflicts as school employees yelled at students to follow new procedures they had not been told about, Steger said. And there were still major issues – like the former student who Steger said ate lunch in the cafeteria earlier Monday without signing in with the front office.

Samuel Mustipher, executive director for secondary schools for the central zone, which includes Towson, said administrators face challenges in implementing these measures but are working out the kinks.

One of the biggest challenges, Mustipher said, is students letting people into the building – something that would make it especially risky, he said, to give students ID cards with swipe access, something proposed at the meeting.

But another challenge is one Mustipher said his team has no power to solve: the facility itself.

Some meeting attendees, including Steger, complained that Towson High School’s layout is unsuited for modern security concerns, with too many entrances and no entry space to hold visitors before they enter the rest of the building.

The county is considering replacing Towson High School, which is aging and bursting at the seams with students. But plans have been delayed and a decision will be up to the incoming county executive, Johnny Olszewski Jr.

In the meantime, Mustipher said, “our job is to get right with the building that we have.”

Capt. Jan Brown, who leads the Towson Precinct, stood up to tell the community members that though their concerns were real, Baltimore County is “so far ahead” of others across the country.

“People look to us and say, how do we do it?” Brown said, pointing to county programs like an increase in School Resource Officers – even in some elementary schools.

“We are constantly investigating [threats]. We are on the ball,” Brown said.

Hope Steger and her mother, Heather Steger, both said at the meeting that though they feel the school system is prepared to address threats as they are happening, they want to see more preventative measures. They both pointed to security cameras as an example.

“It’s great that my mom’s going to know who killed me,” Hope Steger said. “I’d rather just not be killed.”

asolomon@baltsun.com

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