Security increases at Worcester Co. Public Schools for 2013-14

(Aug. 30, 2013) Worcester County Public Schools have ramped up security for the 2013-2014 school year with new security deputies patrolling each campus, additional cameras surveying schools, electronic entry systems and other safety measures.

“It offers a vital layer of protection,” said the schools’ Coordinator of Public Relations and Special Programs Barbara Witherow, a member of the schools’ Safety Committee. “When students feel safe and when teachers feel safe, they can focus fully on teaching and learning.”

Discussions on propping up school safety started immediately in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting last December, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot 26 people and himself at the school.

Over the course of the spring, school, law enforcement and government officials convened to determine what steps would be taken. The result: each of the county’s 14 public schools now has an armed security deputy on campus throughout the school day — a total of 13 deputies since Snow Hill Middle School and the Cedar Chapel Special School share a campus and one officer will cater to both schools.

The cost of the additional deputies, 11 of which are part-time, is estimated to be $594,225.80 this year because of training expense and is projected to drop to $486,611.30 next year.

“Out of all our security measures, I would say it’s the most significant layer of security protection,” Witherow said.

While the deputies are paid for through the budget for the sheriff’s office, the schools budget added $173,425  to improve security, with half reimbursed by the state through a security improvement initiative grant, Witherow said.

One change in protocol involves more frequent student safety drills on buses, for fires and in case lockdown occurs. Before, each school had its own set of codes for emergencies, but Worcester County schools have adopted a uniform code of operation to facilitate cross-campus communication, Witherow said.

“Instead of having 145 different codes, we have a unified system of communication now,” she said. Code red means that normal schedules stop and students remain in their classrooms or move to a secured area, for example.

The Worcester County Commissioners approved the school safety requests and the additional officers with the budget passed in June, Witherow said.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jerry Wilson had asked for funding for six projects totaling an estimated $218,425, but the commissioners approved four of them.

They voted in favor of the purchase and installation of the 14 electronic buzzer entry systems at a cost of $65,000, the purchase and installation of the card-swiping entry systems for portable classrooms at a cost of $63,000, the purchase and installation of additional security cameras at a cost of $25,000 and the purchase and installation of the visitor identification systems that produce photo badges and provide sex offender background checks at a cost of $20,425 for the first year and $5,000 for each year following.

The commissioners did not approve two items the schools requested: the proposed purchase and installation of six over-sized flowerpots or bollards to be placed outside schools to thwart vehicles from driving through the main entrance doors, an estimated cost of $20,000; and the purchase and installation of blinds or tinting on some windows that offer a clear view into a classroom from neighboring parking lots and roads, an estimated cost of $25,000.

Some opposed the new measures, however, and Commissioner Louise Gulyas cast the sole vote against them. She had received calls from parents who felt uncomfortable with having armed guards in the schools, she said.

“It’s like we’re raising our children in a prison,” she said at an April meeting.

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