School shooting prompts local districts to upgrade buildings & safety plans

Ellicott City, Md. - If it took you a little longer to let go today at the bus stop, you're not alone.  Handing over the protection of your kids is a tough thing to do. 

Maryland schools are required to have safety plans to make sure they're safe.  ABC2 found all are up to date and on file with the state's Department of Education.  But in the wake of Friday's shooting, it seems they'll all likely be making some changes. 

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It was a foggy morning for drop-off in Baltimore County, but one thought was clear on every parents mind: Will my kid be safe?  Nanny Emily Griffin heard that question this morning before taking her charges to Rodgers Forge Elementary.  She says, "It's a little nerve wracking to send their children, the most precious thing they have, off to school."

That's likely why goodbyes were a little longer today and hugs a little tighter.  Many parents also noticed security was a lot more obvious, with officers stationed outside local schools.  John Putnam says, "My children have already asked this morning, ‘Why is there a police officer?'  I already said, 'They're just here to say hi to everybody.'"

But police parked outside Rodgers Forge Elementary and schools across our area are prepared to do much more.  Local districts brought them in to reassure parents and students.  Baltimore County Superintendent Dr. Dallas Dance says families in his district should expect to see a continued police presence at elementary schools until further notice. 

Howard County also placed officers outside its elementary schools.  Superintendent Dr. Renee Foose says it's step they felt they had to take after the tragedy in Newtown, "We all feel nervous.  I was nervous about children coming to school today, but we have a job to do."

And for Foose, that job now means looking at security upgrades for schools.  It's a task her team started over the weekend.  She explains, "Many of our schools were built in the 80s and schools back then were not built with the design of preventing intruders from coming in and doing harm to students."

Her team looked at potential vulnerabilities in the system, identifying at least two schools that will need physical changes.  Dr. Dance says he's asked building supervisors to do a walk-through of every facility in the next 24-48 hours, identifying problems so they can be fixed.

But Foose says physical changes are not the only kind she expects to make.  She believes Newtown is also motivation to update safety plans and procedures, even though the shooter there forced his way into the building.  Foose says, "It lowers the probability.  Yes.  And if we are prepared for the unlikely emergency, then that's going to lessen the impact of the disaster that these events could occur."

Both Foose and Dance met with local police and their county executives in the wake of the shooting.  Foose has suggested a joint task force to address not only physical upgrades to schools but also issues related to mental health.

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