Montgomery parents were promised Wednesday that there would be more police presence in schools next year and that the school system will study specific ways to make schools safer.
At a meeting hosted by the county’s main parent group in the wake of last month’s shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, police, county councilmembers, the county’s school board president and school system leaders reassured a crowd of about 100 that the county would work together to make sure schools are as safe as possible.
Robert Hellmuth, director of school safety and security for Montgomery County Public Schools, said the school system is considering extending to middle schools the security upgrades it has put in place at elementary schools.
With the upgrades, school office staff can see and talk to visitors using an intercom and surveillance camera before remotely unlocking the school’s doors.
Hellmuth said the school system may make a request next year to the superintendent and Board of Education to add the projects to its Capital Improvements Program.
The systems are set to be installed at all elementary schools by the end of next year, but the school board has asked the County Council to speed up the process so the systems are installed by the end of this school year.
Council members Philip M. Andrews (D-Dist. 3) and Craig Rice (D-Dist. 2) assured parents that the council would approve that request.
Hellmuth also said, after hearing from principals Wednesday morning, a group will gather to discuss what can be done to enhance security around portable classrooms.
There are about 500 portable classrooms at the school system’s 202 schools, mostly in elementary schools.
Because the layout of portables on each school property is different, each security setup must be unique, Hellmuth said.
“When we look at safety for relocatable classrooms, we have to look at each individual building and say what can we do, working with what we have,” he said.
Rice also promised parents that he would work with county and school leaders and police to see that the number of School Resource Officers — county and city police officers who are assigned to schools — is doubled, from six to 12.
Rice, of Germantown, has fought for the last few years during budget cuts to preserve at least some of the officers, which used to be in all 25 high schools, and which he says are a crucial proactive approach to school security.
The officers are more than just a badge, he said.
“They are a friend, a compatriot, and a protector,” he said.
The re-expansion of the program would make a huge difference for the officers currently in the schools, said Montgomery County Police Officer Jeremy Wojdan, who helps another officer patrol five upcounty high schools.
Wojdan isn’t one of the county’s assigned school resource officers, but Fifth District Commander Luther Reynolds assigned him to the schools to help out.
“With thousands of students, we are constantly being reactive, and it is extremely difficult to be proactive,” Wojdan said. “A big part of the program is interacting with students.”
Parents also asked about student behavior as it relates to safety, such as bullying and behavior on buses.
John Biddison of Rockville, who has two children in elementary school, asked the officials to consider conducting more safety drills in school.
Each school currently conducts 10 fire drills and four scenario-based emergency drills each year, Hellmuth said.
Every school develops its own emergency procedures and the school system reviews the plans, Hellmuth said. Last school year, the county’s 131 elementary schools reported that they conducted 232 lockdown drills, 327 shelter drills, 29 evacuation drills and 1,327 fire drills.
“I’m concerned about the amount of training happening,” Biddison said.
Montgomery County Police Chief Thomas Manger said before the meeting began that there are always ways the county can improve its school safety.
“And if there are improvements we can make through technology, through additional school resources officers — no matter what we can do to improve the safety of our schools, we intend to do it,” Manger said.