Local: Education

Montgomery County board OKs elementary schools security boost

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Local,Maryland,Education,Rachel Baye,Montgomery County

The Montgomery County School Board voted unanimously Tuesday to boost security at the county's elementary schools.

If the County Council approves its request -- which requires the county to speed up spending $364,000 that was not budgeted to be used until next fiscal year -- anyone trying to enter a Montgomery County elementary school during the school day will have to be granted entry through a video intercom system. Though some elementary schools already have the system installed, the request is to have it at all 132 elementary campuses by July.

County Council President Nancy Navarro, D-Eastern County, said it's likely the council will approve the request. In a memo sent Monday night, Navarro and council Education Committee Chairwoman Valerie Ervin, D-Silver Spring, urged the board to accelerate its security plans in the wake of the massacre of 20 first-grade students at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last month.

"From a comfort perspective, it's the right move," Susan Burkinshaw, co-chairwoman of the Health and Safety Committee at the Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations, said of the decision to speed up the installation. "It's huge to get those installed at all the schools, but we should be doing that anyway, not just to protect our kids from armed gunmen."

There are no plans to implement a similar video intercom entry system at county middle and high schools, said Bob Hellmuth, director of school safety and security at Montgomery County Public Schools.

Burkinshaw questioned that decision.

"The cost is obviously a huge issue, but if we're talking about keeping our kids safe, we should have all the same access controls," she said.

But Hellmuth said the decision not to put video controls at middle and high schools was logistical. Middle and high school students enter and exit the school building throughout the school day, he explained.

Middle and high schools also have unarmed security personnel -- middle schools have one or two, high schools between four and eight -- while elementary schools do not, he said. "There are no plans to put guns in our schools."

Though school resource officers -- police officers dedicated to patrolling the schools -- are armed, there are only six in the county, one for each police district. The officers spend most of their time at the high schools, Hellmuth said. The county at one point planned to have 32 school resource officers and had as many as 28, but budget constraints prompted the county to cut back, he said.

Ultimately, no amount of security procedures are going to protect students from every situation, school board member Patricia O'Neill said at Tuesday's board meeting.

"At the end of the day every day, we have to say a little prayer for our kids ... and pray that there's a guardian angel sitting on our shoulder," she said.

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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