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County looks at school safety issues

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Published on: Thursday, January 10, 2013

By Christa Puccio

The December shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school raised the concern of many parents of Montgomery County Public School (MCPS) students, according to Montgomery County Council President Nancy Navarro, who sent a letter this week to the MCPS Board of Education (BoE) president urging him to speed up on MCPS’ safety initiatives.

“Many parents expressed concerns and we decided to relay those concerns to the Board of Education leadership and let them know that we would stand ready to act promptly if they made the act to accelerate completion,” Navarro said.  

One man killed 27 people, 20 of which were children, and injured one at Sandy Hook Elementary School before he took his own life, according to published reports.  Some parents are asking what safety precautions MCPS is taking to ensure that doesn’t happen to their children.

“[The Board of Education] moved forward a resolution,” MCPS spokesperson Gboyinde Onijala said. “They are requesting for the Montgomery County Council to move $364,000 of the funding from fiscal year 2014, and that’s in the Capital Improvements Program, down to 2013 so that MCPS can complete the installation of access control systems in elementary schools by the end of June this year.”

Navarro said the BoE’s request will be introduced to the council on Jan. 15; then the education committee will meet on the topic and there will be a public hearing before an action will be made on Feb. 5, Navarro said.  At that point, the BoE will allocate the money toward the access control system for schools.

The system is “just one component” of MCPS plans to improve school safety, Navarro said.  The system will equip each elementary school with “a buzzer, which means nobody can get in to the school unless you hit the buzzer; there’s a camera, and in order to get access you have to show ID,” Navarro said.

Some parents have asked how MCPS protects students from people entering the school with a gun.

“We have multiple ways of keeping our schools safe,” Onijala said. “MCPS requires checking in and reporting to the main office and there are officers on ground who are trained to look for suspicious behavior, and there will be the access control system implemented in elementary schools, which 26 elementary school currently do not have the system installed.”

Some parents have asked if MCPS will install metal detectors to help protect against guns.

“There’s no conversation at the board level now on metal detectors, but I don’t know about the future,” Onijala said.  “I can’t comment that anyone can walk into a school with a gun.  I don’t have a response to that.”

Navarro said the BoE has not come to the council requesting metal detectors for MCPS.

“I don’t think the board of education has discussed that,” said Navarro.  “If they came and asked me for money for metal detectors I would consider it, I would definitely consider it.  I would listen to their justifications for doing it I think there are different opinions on that.  Some people believe that when you start installing metal detectors you’re turning schools into defacto prison like spaces.  Some people believe there are some statistics that you have to look at first.  So I think there are a lot of things that come into play before we get to that point.  So, obviously our job is to listen to the justification, the reasons why, and make a decision, but it has not come up.”

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