SALISBURY – Protective shields will soon be placed in all Wicomico County Public School (WCPS) buildings.
On Tuesday, the Wicomico County school board voted unanimously to accept a donation of 840 emergency response shields from Hardwire, LLC, a Pocomoke-based armor manufacturing company.
Kim Miles, assistant superintendent for student and family services, said the equipment – valuing approximately $1.2 million – would be installed in every WCPS building.
“I hope we never need to utilize these …,” she said. “But if we know there’s a safety measure available, we would be remiss to not at least consider it.”
In June, Hardwire CEO George Tunis and President and COO Emily Tunis came before the Wicomico County Council to announce the company’s donation of roughly 1,600 emergency response shields to schools in the tri-county region. The company’s pledge to provide active shooter protection equipment came two weeks after a gunman entered an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and killed 19 students and two teachers.
“These are family destroying events, and we cannot let that happen in our community …,” George Tunis told county leaders at the time. “This is just one layer of defense.”
Miles told board members this week the shields would be installed next to fire extinguishers mounted in the school system’s buildings. She added student resource officers (SROs) would also be trained on how to use the shields in an active shooter situation.
Board member Tonya Laird Lewis questioned if other officers within the Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office would be trained to use the shields.
“I know we frequently have individuals from the sheriff’s office pick up overtime to fill SRO positions,” she said. “How are we making sure those picking up overtime will have this training?”
Miles noted that Capt. Rich Wiersberg of the Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office would be training all personnel on the use of the protective shields.
“It will be inclusive of all the deputies,” she replied.
While he said the donation was a step in the right direction, board member John Palmer argued more needed to be done to keep teachers and students safe in an active shooter situation.
“The expectation that one of our teachers will use this to confront a shooter is something I don’t think is a real expectation,” he said. “I would rather see money invested in a manner that teachers can secure classroom doors … I think there needs to be a long-range plan so any teacher in any classroom can go to that door, secure it and get students aside.”
Miles noted classroom doors remain locked throughout the school day. And while staff will be made aware of the shields, she said SROs will be trained to handle them.
“I hope they collect dust and never have to be touched,” she said. “But if they have to be touched, we’ll have SROs on scene.”