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Montgomery Co. PTAs hold forum on school safety

Thursday - 1/10/2013, 6:13pm  ET

WASHINGTON - While Maryland state lawmakers consider legislation on everything from banning assault-style weapons to procedures involving gun shop inspections, communities are examining school safety.

The Montgomery County Council of PTAs Health and Safety Committee is holding a forum on school safety and emergency preparedness next week, Jan. 16 at 7 p.m. The panel will include Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger, Board of Education President Christopher Barclay and Director of School Safety and Security for Montgomery County Public Schools Robert Hellmuth.

Montgomery County Council Vice President Craig Rice and Montgomery County Councilmember Phil Andrews will also be in attendance.

Rice says in recent years, budget cuts forced the county to cut the number of School Resource Officers (or SROs) from 12 to six officers.

"Last year there was actually a look at eliminating that program altogether," says Rice, who adds that the money was found to keep those six officers in schools.

According to Rice, the SROs are not assigned to middle and elementary schools.

"I'm not saying that's necessary, I'm not saying that's necessarily the right thing to do," Rice says.

Rice, however, would like to see the number of SROs assigned to the county's high schools double.

He also wonders if the county's SROs could follow a model where the officer assigned to a given high school performs "drop in" visits to the middle and elementary schools that feed into the high school. This model is used in other school systems, and it helps to establish relationships between staff and students.

Montgomery County's Board of Education recently voted to accelerate a program to update the school system's security measures, which includes upgrading building access equipment and tightening entrance procedures, among others.

Montgomery County Public Schools system is in the fifth year of its six-year school security upgrade plan. By accelerating the update, installation of the new equipment and procedures would finish by the end of this school year (2013) as opposed to next school year (2014).

The school safety and emergency preparedness forum will take place on Wed., Jan. 16 at the Montgomery County Board of Education (Carver Educational Services Center) at 850 Hungerford Dr., Rockville, Md. The meeting will begin at 7 p.m.

WTOP's Kate Ryan contributed to this report. Follow @KateRyanWTOP and @WTOP on Twitter.