Staying vigilant in an effort to keep Washington County schools safe
Washington Co. Sheriff Doug Mullendore take a virtual tour of the inside of a county school from the inside of his vehicle. (By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer / December 22, 2012)
Monitoring school visitors.
Talking about metal detectors.
Engaging in a national gun-control debate.
These are some of the issues that routinely arise after a school shooting makes national headlines, and people, from parents to educators to political pundits, talk about what can be done to make schools safer.
The national discussion, perhaps not for the first time, has included arming school principals following the Dec. 14 school shootings at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school that left 20 children and six adults dead, as well as the shooter.
Locally, Washington County Public Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox took the issue beyond simply ensuring physical school security — making sure exterior doors are locked and reminding principals to be careful in monitoring visitors’ comings and goings — to asking school administrators to check with employees about issues in their lives that could “escalate” and “spill out onto campus.”
In an email Wilcox sent to school principals and assistant principals on Dec. 16, two days after the Connecticut shootings, he asked them to “thoughtfully, tactfully and delicately ask your faculty and staff if there is anything going on in their life — which could — escalate into an incident which might spill out onto campus.”
Wilcox asked that they do so privately, so as not to embarrass anyone.
“If your conversation gives us some insight into either providing help to the person in need or averts a crisis — slight offense taken is something we can take,” Wilcox wrote.
Wilcox said Wednesday he told principals, “We have a responsibility to be aware of our environment.”
“We’re an intensely human organization in the sense that ... parents come in and sometimes, they don’t get the best of news from us,” Wilcox said. “Sometimes, our employees have spouses who are struggling because it’s a rough economy. We just want to be aware of those things.
“We want people to have open lines of communications so that we can anticipate that there may be a problem on the horizon.”
Denise Fry, president of the Washington County Teachers Association, said Wilcox is “asking the tough questions that need to be asked.”
“He’s saying we need to make sure that everyone’s OK,” Fry said. “If that’s asking a tough question here or there, that needs to be done occasionally.”
“I think it’s being proactive,” Board of Education President Justin Hartings said. “I think, again, we don’t know all the details of what led this disturbed man in Connecticut to do what he did. But ... if there are signs in the community that we can see in people who ... are struggling or are unhappy, that we can use to try to help protect all of us, then I think ... that’s a great proactive step.”
Stepping up security
On Dec. 16, two days after the shootings in Connecticut, school system senior staff met to draft a letter to principals and Wilcox issued an audio message to parents to let them know principals would review security procedures.