The off-campus deaths of six Prince George’s County students this school year have added to the urgency of improving school security, school board members say, and they have approved a $4.25 million plan to address the issue.
The plan includes $2.5 million for an electronic access system for all schools; $1.5 million for security cameras at 65 schools; $150,000 to install panic buttons in school front offices; and $100,000 for the Situational Analysis Management System, software that analyzes security data and identifies potential trouble spots.
“In light of the recent school violence seen across the country, and in light of some of the incidents that have happened in our county outside of our schools, we felt we could not wait until the next school year. We had to act now,” board member Edward Burroughs (Dist. 8) said.
So far this school year, six county public schools students have been killed, according to police. While the deaths did not occur on school grounds, the violence — coupled with mass shootings elsewhere in the United States — elevated security concerns, officials said.
Interim Superintendent Alvin Crawley initially included $1 million in the fiscal 2014 budget for security improvements but later announced that funds from a surplus in the school system’s unassigned fund balance — funds available for any purpose — would be used. The security improvements and other midyear costs will leave slightly more than $3.5 million in the surplus account, according to the fiscal 2013 midyear financial review.
The school board approved the funding during its Feb. 21 meeting.
School system security director Michael Blow said the analysis software will help find patterns in school security that might otherwise be missed.
“This is a really important tool for us, in order for us to dig down deep and really see what type of patterns and trends develop, and where we need to deploy our resources,” Blow said.
The panic buttons will be located in the front office for emergencies, Blow said.
“We don’t want the panic button indicated because a parent is upset because their child got a B minus on an Algebra exam,” Blow said. “We want to make sure that if there is a true emergency, we can get that info to the appropriate place as soon as possible.”
Cameras will be installed at schools that currently lack them, school system spokesperson Briant Coleman said. There are 204 public schools in the county, Coleman said.
The electronic access system would tie in with cameras, requiring visitors to buzz in before being granted entry, Blow said.
Other measures the school system already is implementing include conducting formal lockdown drills. Blow said there are also two active shooter drills — emergency preparedness simulations of a school shooting — scheduled in April and June.
Blow said the Connecticut school shooting in December that killed 20 children and six adults heightened security concerns and pointed out places for improvements.
“Every time you hear about an incident, you reflect on your policies and procedures and try to develop a plan to prevent it from happening, or if you can’t prevent it, to mitigate the event,” he said.