Carroll schools want to step up security measures

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County educators want students to be safe, but "we don't want to become a fortress," says Superintendent Strader Blankenship.

By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — County officials have mentioned concerns about safety in Carroll Public Schools in the wake of the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., so what new measures are under consideration?
School leaders have requested $4.45 million under the capital improvement project line item from the Carroll County supervisors for fiscal year 2013-2014.
Most of that, if budgeted, would get earmarked for the replacing the aging heating and air conditioning system at Carroll County High School.
The rest would go towards setting up monitored entrances that require visitors to get buzzed in by staff, as well as a card reader system to allow staff only to access certain other exterior doors, according to Schools Superintendent Strader Blankenship.
He foresees most of the schools having to rely on cameras trained on the front entrances to show staff a couple angles at the door and anyone who wants to come in.
Phase III construction work at Carroll County high and intermediate schools reconfigured their entrances to add more security at the front door. Blankenship noted that these entrances have been set up so visitors have to see the staff in administrative areas in order to be admitted to other parts of these schools.
Staff at the high and intermediate schools may be able to monitor the entrance without cameras, Blankenship said.
The buzz-in system is expected to cost between $100,000 and $150,000.
Staff access with card readers would be installed at certain exterior doors that school personnel use. Blankenship said a good candidate would be a classroom that opens up to a playground, for example.
The locks would be keyed with magnetic strips on staff identification cards.
The card reading system may cost around $100,000.
Beyond these capital improvements, the superintendent assumes the school board will ask for more school resource officers.
(Carroll schools now have deputies based at the high and intermediate schools, as well as an officer that splits his time among the different facilities.)
School security is a balancing act, Blankenship finds.
Carroll County Public Schools has a crisis management plan for the division and each school has its own plan for that facility,  he stressed. There is also a safety audit committee that tours the schools annually and gives suggestions to improve matters at each facility and the county as a whole.
Each school staff is drilled regularly about what to do in different emergencies.
“This is one area we think about a lot, teachers think about a lot,” Blankenship said.
People from the school systems that have had mass shootings didn’t think it could happen there, so Carroll’s superintendent doesn’t want to get lulled into a false sense of security. But on the other hand...
“We don’t want to become a fortress,” he said. “We want to be welcoming... We are about education.”