SNOW HILL -- A new Safety Action Plan for Worcester County’s public schools, including armed security officers in schools, was recommended by the Board of Education’s Safety Committee and officially accepted by the board this week.
While the approval was swift, Board of Education officials stressed that this does not mean that School Resource Officers (SROs) will be patrolling schools immediately, only that the board agrees with the recommendations made by its Security Committee and will approach the County Commissioners regarding special funding.
“The Board of Education has adopted the safety committee’s recommendations and plans on requesting the need for SROs and funding for the other safety recommendations to the County Commissioners,” said Coordinator of Public Relations and Special Programs Barb Witherow. “Funding requests for safety recommendations will be outside of the proposed FY2014 operating budget.”
Included in the committee’s recommendations are 13 SROs, 14 electronic entry systems with cameras and two-way speakers, and nine card swiping entry systems for doors leading to portables at Buckingham Elementary School, Berlin Intermediate School, Showell Elementary School, Stephen Decatur Middle School, Snow Hill Elementary School and Snow Hill High School. Also recommended are eight new security cameras, six front entrance vehicle barriers, window blinds or tinting in four schools and 15 standardized visitor identification systems.
Not counting the security officers, the initial anticipated cost of the committee’s recommendations is roughly $219,000, though there will be some minor recurring licensing fees. The cost of the SROs is currently unknown, though estimation is expected to be outlined in the Worcester County Sheriff’s Department’s FY2014 requested budget. The security officers would serve under the jurisdiction of the Sheriff’s Office.
Officers would be placed at each school facility, with connected Snow Hill Middle School and Cedar Chapel Special School sharing an officer. The central office would not have an SRO but one would be stationed next door at Worcester Technical High School.
Assistant Superintendent for Administration Lou Taylor told the school board at Tuesday’s meeting that the current list is only the beginning and that additional measures will be brought forward as the Safety Committee reviews them.
“We will continue to work on other areas, and these are also based not only from the committee but on the security assessments that [Facilities Director Steve] Price and our Sheriff’s Department did of each individual building.”
Price has also been tapped to head student safety efforts. With many of the committee’s suggestions, including visitor ID systems and electronic entry systems, Price admitted that students and parents might experience some inconvenience. However, all of that extra work is the price for more secure schools, he said.
“There may be some inconveniences involved with some of the security measures we’re taking,” he said. “But everyone needs to understand that inconvenience is part of our efforts to ensure the safety of our students.”
The school board will be going before the County Commissioners, possibly as early as March, to request that special funds be set aside to pay for the list of security improvements currently being suggested. The security officers will be part of the Sheriff’s Department’s FY2014 budget request to the commission, however.