Ocean City Today

County seeks school safety improvements

Pocomoke High receives false alarm threat Tuesday
By Brian Gilliland | Feb 22, 2018
Diana Purnell

(Feb. 23, 2018) In the wake of another mass shooting involving schoolchildren, Worcester County on Tuesday appropriated funds to upgrade school radios, proposed a safety meeting between stakeholders and advertised for new sheriff’s deputies with school safety responsibilities.

Almost at the same time, school and law enforcement officers were responding to a false-alarm threat at Pocomoke High School.

According to Carrie Sterrs, of the Worcester County Board of Education, the Pocomoke High School office received a threatening phone call sometime during school hours on Tuesday.

“In accordance with our protocol, law enforcement was immediately notified and all students and staff were appropriately secured,” she said.

Responding to the scene were personnel from the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office and Fire Marshal’s 0ffice, Sterrs said. They evaluated the scene and surrounding areas before deeming them safe. Students were dismissed at regular time, and afterschool activities continued at a secure location within the school.

During the county commissioner meeting in Snow Hill on Tuesday, the commissioners appropriated $35,000 to replace the schools’ radio systems with upgraded models. The county is in the process of upgrading all its radios, but found that the existing units within the schools are incompatible with the upgrades, a situation that could jeopardize communications between school staff and the deputies assigned to protect the schools.

The commissioners unanimously agreed to fund the upgrade as a non-agenda item as the first order of business on Tuesday.

The Worcester County Sheriff’s Office also posted a job listing for part-time deputies that included some school safety responsibilities. The county currently funds 14 school resource officers — one per school in the district — but is considering adding more, according to county officials.

“The sheriff is committed to creating a safe environment for students and working hard to reduce the fear some may feel when it comes safety,” Lt. Ed Schreier, public information officer for the Sheriff’s Office, said.

Finally, though a date and time has not yet been set, Commissioner President Diana Purnell has called for a meeting between county, public health and law enforcement officials as well as board of education officials to discuss the overall safety of the public schools.

It is unknown at this time if the meeting will be open to the public, or if public comment would be allowed.

“Assuring the protection of our public schools for our children and staff is top priority here in Worcester County,” Purnell said. “Working together with all of the stakeholders allows us to scrutinize our existing policies and practices, so that we can continue to improve upon them.”

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