The shock of December’s tragic shootings in Newtown, CT, has caused some parents in Montgomery County to speak out about school safety in their elementary schools.
Parents and family members of students at Bradley Hills Elementary in Bethesda have written to county leaders, including county council members, the Montgomery County school board and Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr asking for security improvements at the elementary school’s temporary location, according to a Wednesday Gazette report.
Students and teachers at Bradley Hills are currently housed at the Radnor Center, while the schools undergoes modernization, scheduled for completion in August.
“Our school has no security system in place and our front door remains unlocked throughout the school day with no mechanism for screening visitors,” parents wrote, according to the report.
Parents who wrote into the county leaders are pushing for immediate improvements like a hall monitor or an entrance buzzer as MCPS students headed back to school from winter break on Wednesday. Parents had raised concerns about safety at the center before the Newtown shooting but say that budget issues have pushed any upgrades back, said Robert Sitrick, a Bradley Hill’s PTA safety committee member.
“[MCPS Spokesman Dana] Tofig said all elementary schools and ‘holding facilities,’ like Radnor, are scheduled to receive security upgrades by the end of next school year,” the article states.
Improvements will include security cameras and equipment to sign in and monitor daily visitors, cross-reference the visitors’ names with state and local sex offender registries.
Meanwhile, the Montgomery County Council of PTAs has scheduled a school safety forum for 7 p.m. on Jan. 16 at the Carver Auditorium in Rockville. Speakers will include Doug Steel from MCPS security and Cpt. Luther Reynolds, Montgomery County 5th police district commander, according to Susan Burkinshaw, a health and safety chairwoman of the organization. County councilmembers and Police Chief Tom Manger may also be in attendance, she said.
Community members across the county have reflected on the security of public schools since the Newtown tragedy:
“As a mom of 4, I can't imagine a greater loss for a parent such as a senseless act like this that snatches away innocent lives,” said Wheaton Patch blogger, Frances Frost. “As for our elementary schools, I feel like my children are relatively safe, although the portables do make me a little nervous. But I realize that no-one can be 100% safe all the time and I pray that every day my children come home safely."
Jean Winegardner, a weekly columnist on Wheaton Patch, echoed Frost’s thoughts in an email to Patch:
"I have kids in three different MCPS elementary schools. Two of them have all-locked doors during the day and one has an unlocked door directly by the front office. In general, I have felt as safe in these schools as I think it is possible to feel. That said, I feel that if anyone were determined to get into any of my kids' schools and hurt people, he or she would be able to find a way,” she said. “Short of guards and metal detectors, it is impossible to make schools completely safe. Even with locked doors and sign-in procedures, I'm pretty sure that a son of a teacher could talk his way into almost any school."
Following the March 2012 school shooting in Chardon, Ohio, Burkinshaw wrote a blog on Patch posing the question of whether Montgomery County was ready to face a similar tragedy. Readers chimed in weighing the benefits of increased security with cultural changes.
“My own 2 cents would be that in reality there really isn't a ‘damn’ thing anyone can do if someone is bent on doing harm to others,” said Jeff Hawkins in a comment on the post. “Having said that, we can help to do a better job of 'setting the table' for our kids.”