LAUREL, Md. (WJLA) – Every public school in Prince George's county will undergo security upgrades this year, from electronic lockdown doors with video intercoms to hidden panic buttons. Schools that don't have closed circuit TV that police can access in an emergency will have those systems installed too.
There's one reason for the $7.5 million security enhancements: the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School last year.
"Sandy Hook was one of those moments, unfortunately, where it made us look at ourselves and ask, 'Do we have the right measures in place?'" said Daryl Williams, Chief of Student Services for the school district.
Parents of children at Dwight D. Eisenhower Middle School in Laurel, where contractors began the two-day upgrade process, wholeheartedly welcome the measures.
"Since my son is starting middle school this year I feel especially blessed," said Kianna, a mother of four children who preferred to withhold her last name.
But Crossland High School 11th grader Kha'Aja Bannister shrugged off the idea that locked doors, buttons, and cameras would do much to protect students.
"Unless they have metal detectors, you can, students can, still get in with guns," said Bannister.
Eleven year old Melvin Arevalo disagreed.
"Some students panicked when we had to have an actual lockdown because someone forgot to check in the office. This will make us feel safer."
The upgrades began this week, and the district plans to install the equipment at five schools a week all year long, until all 194 public schools are locked up tight.
Also along the lines of security, PGCPS is launching an on-line bullying reporting system Monday. Instead of filing a report in person, parents and children will be able to file anonymously from the privacy of their homes through their personal computers and Smartphones.
Again, Kha'Aja doubted her classmates would report bullying on-line. But her guardian, Pamela Hildebradt volunteered, "I will!"
According to PGCPS records for 2012, there were 325 reports of bullying or harassment. The majority of the incidents happened on school property, although a few occurred on the bus, on the way to school, or during school sponsored events.
"The school system has been promoting bullying awareness and providing lessons and training to both students and staff," said Lynn McCawley, a PGCPS spokesperson.
"Staff is focused on early intervention when they see behaviors that could potentially escalate to bullying. We do expect more incidents to be reported this year now that the anonymous online reporting form is available," said McCawley.