ROCKVILLE — Montgomery County Public Schools officials will review emergency response drills and security practices after a number of County schools received threats in the wake of the Valentine’s Day school shooting which took the lives of 17 people in Florida.
Henry Johnson, chief of staff to MCPS superintendent Jack Smith, said MCPS administrators will work with Department of School Safety and Security employees to review emergency procedures for situations such as a school lockdown and consider changes, including modifications to current training programs.
“One of the things we will do is after this latest incident here and the incident in Florida, we will sit down and re-evaluate and re-examine our protocols and practices,” Johnson said Friday. “We always do that after there is a situation like this, to determine if there’s anything we need to do differently or any other type of training we need to provide for our staff and for our students; and then we’ll make a determination of what should or could be done differently in order to avert these types of incidents from occurring.”
MCPS spokesperson Gboyinde Onijala said hundreds of Northwest HS parents pulled their children out of school after a student reported a social media post that appeared to contain a threat to the school.
Although Northwest Principal Jimmy D’Andrea explained in a letter to parents that students would be safe at school and Montgomery County Police Department officials did not consider the threat credible.
“You can’t force parents to take their child to school,” she said, while confirming that 650 Northwest students were excused from school Friday after being signed out by a parent or guardian.
Onijala added that MCPS has a social media specialist in charge of monitoring social media for threats and other matters.
Most – but not all – MCPS principals have Twitter accounts, Johnson said, adding that he finds it helpful for principals to be actively involved on social media in order to remain attentive to potential threats to school safety.
“Our administrators have done a really good job connecting themselves to social media, not only to advertise the great things that are going on at their schools, but also for other things – to determine if there are threats to their schools or if there are going to be any issues that they have to get involved or have other agencies get involved with,” he said. “That’s how a lot of our principals find out information.”
According to the MCPS 2017 internal safety and security report, every school has an “access control system” featuring a camera at the school entrance which allows staff to see visitors before granting them entrance.
While elementary schools have fewer cameras and security officers than high schools, Onijala and Johnson said the County’s elementary schools are no less protected than the high schools, and that MCPS trains staff at every school for various types of emergencies.
Onijala said school administrators now use plain-language terms to alert students and staff to emergencies, such “lockdown,” “evacuate” and “shelter,” while Johnson noted that the terms “code red” or “code blue” are no longer used.
The old “code red” and “code blue” terms were implemented after the 1999 Columbine High School massacre. Each school principal formulated an individual security plan for their school, which means some schools may not use a public address system to alert students and staff to emergency situations.
MCPS central office administrators performed an internal safety and security review of “MCPS protocols, practices, and infrastructure related to the critical imperative of maintaining safe, orderly learning environments for all students” in 2017 after false rape allegations were made against two Rockville High School rape allegations.
The review focused first on high schools, and was later expanded to middle and elementary schools.
Administrators engaged the services of consultants William Modzeleski and James P. Kelly – school security experts who have worked in school security around the country – to assist with the investigation, according to the report, which found MCPS to have a “robust security system” that includes “thousands of cameras in schools, hundreds of school security personnel, engaged teachers and administrators, and partnerships with other government agencies.”
The report noted that simply adding more cameras to a school is not enough to improve security.