Parents and teachers recently gathered with school administrators and it had the feeling of a classroom exercise. They sat around tables and made T-charts with poster paper and markers. On the left, they listed safety and security problems, on the right possible solutions. Christopher Jakubiak, who has two daughters, one at Dumbarton Middle, the other at West Towson Elementary, wasted no time telling his number one top-of-the-T-chart worry.
“What happens when an active shooter or someone who is intent on harming kids shows up at the school grounds?” Jakubiak asked.
Mike Ford, a manager for school safety in Baltimore County, assured Jakubiak and the others sitting at his table that officials soon will present to the school board safety recommendations that will give teachers and students options.
“And not just in a room, close a door and hope,” Ford said.
School officials in districts across the country have been re-evaluating their security in the weeks since the shooting at a Florida high school which took 17 lives. The Baltimore County School Board is expected to get security recommendations later this month. The county had been working on improving security even before the shooting in Florida.
During the discussion, some parents said it’s too easy to just waltz on in to a school. Andrea Bank, who has two children in the county schools, said no one is asked to present identification until they are already in the building and have walked into the office.
“So our solution is that at the door the parents state the purpose of their visit and the child with whom they are associated,” Bank said.
Bank’s table also wanted all backpacks searched at the door.
“Once something is in the building it’s too late,” Bank said.
Backpacks were the talk at another table. Elizabeth Johnson has a child in a Baltimore County middle school. She said clear backpacks should be required at every school so any drugs or weapons would be in clear view.
“I think it’s a fantastic idea,” Johnson said. “I looked on line. They’re only seven dollars. They go up to 25 dollars. We can do this by the bulk.”
Crowding in schools was also viewed as a safety problem in part because of outside classroom trailers, where teachers say they feel isolated and vulnerable. Elena Lomicky is a substitute teacher at Villa Cresta Elementary School in Parkville and has a son attending Parkville Middle. Nearly 40 percent of the county schools have trailers. Lomicky said when it comes to safety procedures, classroom trailers are an afterthought.
Lomicky said, “And so what I would hope is that anything new that comes along would specifically state, ‘if you are located in a trailer, in a learning cottage, this is what you do.’”
Ford said it’s only a coincidence that the school system is considering changes to security policy now, just weeks after the February 14 murders in Florida.
“These are things that have been in the works for the longest time and they happen to come almost to the end where the school board can make decisions on things that we recommended,” Ford said.
But beyond any recommendations, Dulaney High School Principal Sam Wynkoop said teachers in schools need to get to know each other and work together to keep students safe. That can be a trick in a school like Dulaney, with 1,800 students and a staff of 150.
“Why are two teachers who have been in the building for 14 years overheard saying to each other, ‘how was your first year at Dulaney.’ I saw it.” Wynkoop said.
The school board is expected to take up security at its March 20 meeting.