Officials discuss safer schools

Dorchester Banner/Dave Ryan
Local officials and consultants held a panel discussion on March 25 on work being done to create a comprehensive school safety and security plan. From the left are Superintendent Dr. Diana Mitchell, Director of Operations Beth Wilson, Cambridge Police Department Lt. Shane Hinson, Office of the Sheriff Chief Deputy John Stitchberry, Mace’s Lane Middle School Counselor Jamie Dutton, and Mace’s Lane Middle School Principal Jymil Thompson.

CAMBRIDGE — Public school officials, law enforcement officers and consultants held a panel discussion March 25, part of a project to create a comprehensive security plan. Mace’s Lane Middle School administrators and Central Office personnel are in talks with representatives from the Kenjya-Trusant Group, LLC (KTG), which is devising the plan they hope will be implemented nationwide.

“There have been 250 active shooting events in the U.S. since 2000, and almost a quarter of those have happened in schools,” KTG Management Analyst and discussion moderator Dave Jude said. The consulting firm has advised four other schools and met a Congressional group as its staff continue gathering information.

Mace’s Lane is the only school they have coordinated with in Maryland. The middle school “has offered a valuable snapshot,” Mr. Jude said, noting that KTG is trying to find a non-political approach to stemming the nationwide tide in school violence.

Parents, teachers and students attended the event, held at Choptank Elementary School. “These programs are only as successful as the community is willing to invest in them,” Mr. Jude said.

Part of the program now underway at Mace’s Lane will be a table-top exercise in which administrators and consultants will conduct a mock event, to examine the school’s current response plan. KTG representatives will also visit classrooms this week to speak to students directly, to gain their perspectives.

Events over recent years have led to a re-examination of previously accepted responses. For instance, police used to wait outside a building until specially trained and equipped S.W.A.T. teams arrived. But that delay could cost lives, so officers are often instructed now to get inside right away.

The impulse to evacuate is sometimes questioned as well, after an incident in which a fake threat was called into a school to lure all students outside, where shootings took place.

The need to protect students from an outside threat is matched by the need to identify and treat troubled students themselves. “We have to provide resources for our students and their families,” Superintendent Dr. Diana Mitchell said.

“My function is to find new ways to train our staff,” Directer of Operations Beth Wilson said. She also looks for resources and funds that can assist children and their families.

Jamie Dutton is a counselor at Mace’s Lane. “I believe my role as a school counselor is to be pro-active,” distributing information and help. “You have to be there, be visible and be available at all times.”

As educators are at work, so are police officers. Cambridge Police Department (CPD) Lt. Shane Hinson said, “We have a multi-level role,” including re-establishing control in times of violence, and then investigating afterwards.

Chief Deputy John Stitchberry of the Office of the Sheriff said his agency, the CPD and public school officials communicate via the Safe Schools Committee, sharing information and strategies. He also said his agency has only two school resource officers to cover their share of the county, and would like to see increased funding to assign more officers to the task.

“As these events become more prolific, we have to strive for a community response,” Lt. Hinson said.

“People want to sit on the sidelines,” Mace’s Lane Principal Jymil Thompson said. “The school can’t do it by itself.”

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