ROCKVILLE — In light of recent shootings at schools in Parkland, Florida and St. Mary’s County, Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Jack Smith said he plans to ask for more funding to increase security at schools.
While officials from the Montgomery County Board of Education said they were already in the process of updating security at schools recent school shootings have made administrators reevaluate school’s security needs.
As County school officials were in the process of reviewing schools’ safety infrastructure, training for staff and violence prevention programs, they said the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and at Great Mills High School in St. Mary’s County gave them pause.
“One thing we feel that we have to do is, in light of the tragedies Florida and St. Mary’s, go back out to our schools again and do another assessment – a facility assessment – both school facilities as well as non-school facilities,” said Andrew Zuckerman, chief operating officer for Montgomery County Public Schools.
While the County has already increased its school resources officer programs, added more security cameras and locks, the takeaway from last Thursday’s Board of Education meeting was that funding remained the main obstacle to faster security improvements at schools. Zuckerman said although the Board of Education approved $4.9 million in its capital improvements program budget that is now waiting to be approved by the County Council, more money is still needed to help improve schools’ security infrastructure.
“This is an evolving field, so you can never rest on your laurels,” Zuckerman said.
During the past several years, MCPS has used technology to help with security for its schools by adding security cameras, door lock magnets, doors in the middle of hallways in corridors and vestibules that will only allow visitors to enter and exit a school through one entrance with security. But the added security measures have not made their way to all schools, often going to schools that have been recently built or remodeled.
While the vestibules, which have become an addition to remodeled schools and added to older ones, are supposed to serve as a security entrance where all people must go before they can enter a school, that is not currently in practice at all schools, according to at least one member of the Board of Education.
“Just from my experience visiting almost every high school and middle school, we have great security protocols and procedures on paper; I’m not sure that they are universally implemented,” said Matt Post, student member of the Board of Education. “I walk into a lot of high schools where I don’t even have to push the button, the doors just open or its propped open.”
Zuckerman admitted that many of the schools are still in the “queue” for updates to their entrance security and that more money through a supplemental appropriation would help facilitate the upgrades.
Last year, MCPS signed a memorandum of understanding with Montgomery County Police to better coordinate with one another to help curb growing gang activity in schools. While Zuckerman and County staff were preparing their report on long-term security procedures which mostly focused on gang-prevention, the recent school shootings have changed their focus to more immediate fixes. Superintendent Jack Smith he will ask for a $1.2 million supplemental appropriation to modernize the access control systems, or entrance security for schools.