CUMBERLAND — Sixteen officials from local government, law enforcement and the Allegany County Board of Education met Monday to discuss ways in which they can work together to develop a comprehensive plan for increasing security in area schools.
Following the December school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., school systems across the country have been working to strengthen security measures.
“The schools are doing a superb job,” said District 1 Delegate Kevin Kelly, “but so was Sandy Hook.”
“We are here today so we may see where we are on this issue,” said Craig Robertson, Allegany County’s sheriff, who moderated the meeting held at the county office complex on Kelly Road.
Maryland is including $25 million in grants for security upgrades for the state’s schools in its 2014 fiscal year budget. However, David Cox, superintendent of schools for Allegany County, said the funds are for capital improvements like control of access, vestibules, composition of glass and video cameras.
“There is nothing for additional personnel. We would like to increase personnel,” said Cox.
“It’s a substantial amount of money but it’s small when you spread it out over 20 schools,” said Ed Root, board president.
The board of education announced in a meeting last week that they would like to see the addition of at least five armed security guards, known as school resource officers, to cover outlying schools.
Kelly was not optimistic about the political will and the potential funding needed for armed resource officers.
“There is not much traction in the General Assembly for it,” he said.
Kelly said that adding armed guards is seen as the National Rifle Association’s solution in the heavily democratic Maryland General Assembly.
However, Kelly alluded to the possibility of expanding the school resource officers at the local level.
Currently, there are four police officers assigned to the school system. Cumberland schools have two officers, Frostburg has one and the Alternative School in Eckhart has the other.
Cumberland Police Chief Charles Hinnant said he was “in good shape” with the two officers. However, Frostburg Police Chief Royce Douty said he could use an additional resource officer.
The Frostburg officers also cover Mount Savage and Georges Creek schools.
However, Robertson believes current Maryland law prevents even an off-duty police officer from having a gun on school grounds.
The Maryland General Assembly is currently considering at least four house bills that could establish laws for resource officers in schools and allow for the issuance of handgun permits for qualified school personnel. The proposals are included in House bills 165, 436, 397 and 395.
“Nothing has been finalized yet,” said Kelly.
A call was made to include mental health into a comprehensive plan by Cox.
The board has expressed interest in having two additional mental health professionals to identify acute mental health cases.
“We are going to have to develop a comprehensive plan for school security. The schools vary in size, geographic location and the potential for threat,” said Root.
Board officials said they have not made any official requests at this time and are continuing to study thier options.
Frostburg Mayor Bob Flanigan called for the plan to be a complete package and not “half-measures.”
“The kids want to see a police officer. That’s what gets their attention,” said Flanigan.
Flanigan said an armed guard at the door won’t be effective. He feels kids will open up to a police officer.
“Police officers are liked now. Some kids want to be officers when they grow up,” said Flanigan.
Flanigan spoke of domestics (incidents) in parking lots as well as drugs and fights.
“Let’s make the most of it. We need uniformed officers with police cars. It will do more to protect our children,” said Flanigan.
However, adding new officers would require time and resources. Hinnant said that hiring people and having them complete the training could take up to two years.
Many officials who spoke took the opportunity to commend the board and the school system at large for doing a good job on security.
Other options to include in a security plan were suggested.
Education officials called for law enforcement’s Drug Abuse Resistance Education program to be included in all the school systems. Six elementary schools still have no DARE program at their schools.
“We appreciate the relationship building the DARE program does with our children. They get to see police officers in a light they have never seen before,” said Cox.
Westernport, Bel Air, Cash Valley, Parkside, Cresaptown and Flintstone elementary schools currently don’t have access to the DARE program.
Officials are in the process of compiling information for the plan. “This is going to take some time,” said Root.
Greg Larry can be contacted at email@example.com.