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Posted January 22, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

Final school safety forum calls for action

By Kim Walter

WOODSTOCK -- In the third and final public school safety forum, parents and officials urged each other and those not in attendance to begin the process of making security changes happen.

While the crowd at Peter Muhlenberg Middle School was smaller Tuesday night than at the other two public forums, the interest and information was still there.

Superintendent B. Keith Rowland and Sheriff Timothy C. Carter gave presentations on school security situations from the education and law enforcement stand points. Rowland informed the audience on the fact that simply locking the doors isn't going to solve a potential safety crisis.

The superintendent presented some options for how security could improve, including additional school resource officers, metal detectors, alarms on all exterior doors, simple locking devices for all interior doors and surveillance cameras.

He also brought up the importance of mental health services when thinking about school shooters, but noted that funding for those services have been cut, just like school funding.

W. W. Robinson Elementary School, on the the central campus, already has a "buzz-in" front entrance way, but Rowland presented options for bringing similar layouts to the middle and high schools as well.

Outside security was also discussed, and while Rowland said that perimeter fencing and a guard house could be an option, he asked if that was the "kind of image Shenandoah County Schools wants to have."

Like at the previous forums, Rowland told community members that he needed their support in order to make any of the security changes reality.

On Feb. 6, the school board will hold a work session to discuss what kind of safety measures and improvements they will support. On Feb. 12, the school board will meet with the board of supervisors so the two bodies can discuss priorities and funding options.

"I can give them my suggestions, but I can't make all this happen by myself," Rowland said. "They need to hear what you want."

Amanda Riley, a parent in attendance, asked if the school system might consider hiring a director of security.

"I know it's an added annual salary," she said. "But after these shootings happen, as a nervous parent, I don't feel comfortable making these decisions on what needs to change to protect our children. I think the position is something to look at down the road ... it would be a long-term solution."

Rowland said several county residents had come to him, offering their services or background in security.

Woodstock resident and parent of county student, Shelley Hoffman, gave a rousing message to those who stuck around for the entire forum.

"I'm impressed and I'm reassured ... I didn't realize how much was available when it comes to security," she said. "I don't see anything on that list that isn't worth it. Some of it is more frightening than we'd like, but what about 10 years from now?"

After commending the effort put forth by Rowland and Carter, Hoffman admitted she was disappointed.

"With all the students that go to just the schools on this campus ... this is all that came out," she said, her voice shaking. "I came from work -- left early. And I'm glad I did. Please, please talk to other parents, get online, find things out. I will be there February 6, even if I have to take off work. It is my child."

She looked around at the other parents, school officials and law enforcement personnel.

"It is your child. It is your grandchild," she said. "I know from my own life that if it is to be, it is up to me. So it's time for us to come together as a community ... that's why we love Shenandoah County, the small community feel. I'm busy just like all of you, but please, do it for our children."

All three school safety presentations can be found on the Shenandoah County Public School website: www.shenandoah.k12.va.us.

Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or kwalter@nvdaily.com

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