CUMBERLAND — Allegany County public schools now officially have boots on the ground. Following a week of training to learn to teach the drug awareness program known as DARE, three fully trained former Maryland state troopers were on duty inside the county’s outlying schools Monday.
Following the December 2012 Sandy Hook School shooting tragedy in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman shot and killed 20 students and six staff members before turning the gun on himself, schools across the nation put into action plans to beef up security.
“DARE classes are filled up right now,” said Robert Farrell, coordinator of security, safety and risk management for the Allegany County Board of Education, in reference to the officer training.
Before the board placed the security officers into the schools, it wanted them trained to teach the weeklong DARE course to students.
“Our officers finished their training in Sykesville last week,” said Farrell.
Sykesville is the home of the Maryland State Police Academy.
“Our officers are now DARE-certified. We will have DARE in all the county schools,” said Farrell.
Farrell and new school security officer Bryan Hughes said that last week’s DARE class had 32 in it, and it had people from all over the country in the class.
“It’s hard to get into a DARE course. They are turning people away,” said Farrell.
Farrell said an associate in Virginia reported having to turn enough people away to fill a whole other class.
The journey to hiring the security officers in Allegany County began in January, when the board of education announced its plan to add officers. After much wrangling on the state, county and BOE level over the details, including funding and the ability to carry a firearm on school grounds, the security officers were finally hired in August.
The officers have access to concealed firearms.
Hughes, a 24-year veteran of the MSP, was working in the Mount Savage School on Monday. Mount Savage School is for grades K-8 and has 602 students.
“It’s good to be back and helping the community,” said Hughes.
Hughes could be seen interacting with students, fist bumping and speaking to them on a first name basis.
“I’ve been coaching for years. So I really enjoy working with kids,” said Hughes.
The BOE, which administers the security program, wanted officers who would be comfortable working with children.
Hughes said he has coached various sports in the area for many years.
The schools that the officers cover are set up in three patrols. Schools in Cumberland and Frostburg already have coverage in place.
The new officers will cover three regional patrols: Mount Savage and LaVale; Georges Creek and Westernport; Bel Air, Cresaptown and Flintstone.
“They are scheduled at random. They will hit almost all the schools at some time during the day,” said Farrell.
The principal of Mount Savage School is Martin Crump.
“I’m pleased. We like the idea that there is an extra set of ears and eyes around,” said Crump.
The Allegany County Sheriff’s Office, with funding coming from the county, is also in the process of hiring up to three school security officers to add to the mix and increase coverage.
“Our goal is to create a safe environment in the schools for the students and faculty in Allegany County,” said Hughes.
The tragedy of Sandy Hook is never far from the minds of the officials.
“Everyone says it can’t happen here. But you are never really sure. It does happen when you don’t think it will,” said Farrell.
Greg Larry can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.