UPDATE (2:45 p.m.)—After the tragic school shooting in Connecticut on Friday, Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS) sent a statement to parents that outlined security measures being taken at schools—including how the school system conducts routine emergency drills.
"All of our schools have to do [an emergency] drill five times a year,” AACPS spokesman Bob Mosier told Severna Park Patch. “There are designated months they do the drill in and December’s drill, coincidentally enough, is an active shooter in the school.”
Some schools already participated in this emergency drill earlier in the month; however, others will be doing it this week since they have until Friday to complete the exercise. Mosier said that schools don't normally announce these drills in advance but in light of Friday's event, parents at affected schools may be notified by either phone or email.
At Arnold Elementary School, the principal told parents in a letter that the drill would not be overly dramatized.
"I want to assure you that no one will be simulating the role of the intruder and we will not announce it as an intruder," Principal Shauna Kauffman wrote in the letter to parents.
In addition to drills, some administrators are working to dispel rumors at schools—including Old Mill High School in Millersville, North County High School in Glen Burnie, Arundel High School in Gambrills, and Northeast High School and George Fox Middle School in Pasadena. At these schools, rumors reportedly circulated that there are shootings planned for Friday but administrators sent letters to parents (attached to this article) that there is no indication that a real threat exists.
In the letter to Northeast High parents, principal Jason Williams wrote that police were brought in to help with the investigation of a rumor that "someone would be bringing a gun" to school on Friday and that a student had a gun in his backpack. These rumors were both found to be false, according to the letter.
School officials are urging parents to discuss the importance of not spreading rumors or engaging in pranks. On Tuesday afternoon, a student at Southern Middle in Harwood caused alarm when he set off a firecracker.
The following information is being circulated through local schools to answer potential questions parents may have:
ANSWERS TO POTENTIAL QUESTIONS REGARDING SCHOOL SAFETY IN WAKE OF CONNECTICUT SCHOOL SHOOTING
How do I know my child is safe at school?
There is no plan that guarantees 100 percent safety to all students and staff in our schools in every situation. We continue, however, to put in place proactive measures that are prudent and reasonable to protect students and employees. These include:
· Locked exterior doors while school is in session, with front office staff having to buzz visitors into the building after verification of their purpose. AIPhones that allow front office staff to speak with and see visitors to schools before allowing entry. At our newest schools, there is a double-door system that prevents direct access from the front door to hallways where classrooms are located.
· Routine emergency drills at all schools to familiarize students and staff with what to do in a variety of situations ranging from tornadoes to active shooters in buildings. Schools that have not yet done the December drill will be doing so by Friday. Those schools that will be doing drills this week have been asked to notify parents via Connect-ED message the night before the drill.
· Partnerships with law enforcement, emergency response agencies, and health departments have resulted in increased resources and supports for our students and employees. County police, for instance, had officers at almost all of our schools at dismissal Friday and at arrival today.
What has been done since Friday?
There have been many conversations at Central Office and at schools about security and related issues. Principals at all schools have been reminded to review emergency and security plans, and to discuss with their front office staffs the need to question visitors about their reason for being at a school before allowing entry.
Parents should certainly be prepared for more questions and a sometimes lengthier process to enter a school.
My child says he has never done an active shooter drill in school. How come the school system says they have been done?
Keep in mind that students are very often not told the exact nature of the drill. In an active shooter drill, for instance, a principal may announce a lockdown for an emergency “inside the building” without mentioning an active shooter, which could send students into a panic. Staff members know the terminology and can react appropriately. Students need to understand that in emergency situations – no matter the type of emergency – they need to follow staff directions. That’s part of what these drills are designed to do.
Are there any plans to install metal detectors at all entrances in schools.
Not at this time. This is a conversation that has been happening nationally for several years. Keep in mind that not only would such a move create a more “fortress-like” atmosphere at schools, but it may prove impractical and inefficient in many situations (including the one that just took place in Connecticut).
Further, the cost of putting metal detectors in all schools would be exorbitant, and there would be additional costs for training, maintenance, and staff to be stationed at the devices. Just putting a metal detector in place does not do anything except set off a beeping noise unless someone is stationed at the detector and that person is capable and trained to react appropriately. Anyone knowing that there are metal detectors in a building can certainly figure out an alternative method of getting a weapon into a building.
Are there any plans to install the double doors that are present at new schools in older schools?
No. We are doing this as we renovate, revitalize, and replace schools.