SNOW HILL — In the wake of the tragic mass shooting in Newtown, Conn. last Friday, school officials in Worcester and Wicomico counties acknowledged the need to discuss and potentially upgrade security in local schools.
“Our school system was safe for the times we had and all of that changed on Friday,” said Worcester Board of Education President Bob Rothermel during the board’s meeting Tuesday. “It certainly changed for that school system in Connecticut because they had an adequate school system until someone shot it out. So I think all across this country you’ll see school boards like us, county commissioners and legislative bodies looking to see how we can make our schools safer.”
While meeting with the Worcester County Commissioners on an unrelated topic Tuesday, Worcester Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jerry Wilson mentioned the “awesome responsibility” that educators accept in regards to the safety of students while they are in school. He asked that while the country mourns the tragic deaths of students, teachers and faculty in Connecticut, its leaders also work with the Board of Education in the next few months in reviewing school security measures in place with an open mind, knowing that after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School parents are looking for the guarantee of more safety for their children.
One such parent, Ocean Pines resident Brad Hallowell, spoke briefly at the board meeting on some specific concerns he has with Berlin Intermediate School (BIS) and Showell Elementary School (SES). Hallowell is the parent of two Worcester public school students and told the board that he visited both of their schools Monday.
“Yesterday, I went to school with both of them,” he said. “I walked right in the front door. I had access to the entire school. I didn’t even have to pass the office. No key code, nobody watching, no nothing.”
Hallowell admitted that he visited the schools early in the morning, but still said he was troubled by how easy it was to obtain access. At SES, Hallowell explained that his daughter takes some of her classes in the educational portables adjacent to the school building, which he said were even easier to get to by someone off of the street.
In reading about shootings in Newtown, Hallowell told the board that he felt school systems there had even better security than what is in place in Worcester but those measures still failed to prevent the tragedy. He acknowledged that high schools in Worcester seem to have a slightly higher degree of security than schools with younger students, but stressed the incident in Connecticut has shown that no age group is too young to be attacked.
In response to concern from schools, County Commission President Bud Church said that he and the rest of the commissioners plan on taking whatever measures necessary to protect county students.
Church revealed that he was in Connecticut last Friday only about five miles from the shooting when it took place. When he went into a nearby restaurant and learned the scope of the situation, Church said that he was stunned.
“It reminded me of when [President] John F. Kennedy was shot,” he said.
A visibly shaken Church told Wilson that the commissioners are willing to discuss any measure, including additional funding or an increased police presence in schools, which could help prevent Worcester from being the next community holding candlelight vigils for slain students and teachers.
“I never want to experience that again,” he said. “Oh God, it was terrible. We have to do something.”
Across the county boarder in Wicomico, similar discussions about school safety are planned in the months ahead.
Wicomico Superintendent of Schools Dr. John Frederickson released a short video on Youtube expressing the county’s collective sorrow for the victims in Newtown and promising that student safety is and always will be the highest priority for local educators.
“Please note that our schools are safe, safer than they were years ago,” he said, “but we’re working on additional new actions. We’re working on new procedures, new services, tools and training for our staff.”
Because of the sensitive nature of some of that training, Frederickson added that much of it will be confidential and not readily available information for the public. However, for concerned residents and parents, he pointed out that there are a number of ways to get involved with school safety and supervision.
“You can volunteer, you can donate to current activities that are raising money for security and other tools,” he said. “You can also observe [and] you can also report to us what you learn.”
While major changes to security might not happen for months, if at all, parents were at least able to rest a little easier Monday because of an increased police presence stationed in schools in both counties. By Tuesday the police presence was back to normal in Worcester, though extra patrols continued in Wicomico.
For more information, the Worcester County Board of Education can be contacted at 410-632-5000. The Wicomico County Board of Education can be reached at 410-677-5251. Frederickson’s video can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q0QHnF-EOdg&feature=youtu.be