Ocean City Today
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Officials respond to parents’ weekend safety concerns

Stephen Decatur Middle School threat from January resurfaces on social media
By Brian Gilliland | Mar 01, 2018
Photo by: File photo Superintendent Lou Taylor

(March 2, 2018) With all eyes focused on school safety after the latest in an ongoing series of gun-related massacres at schools across the country, plus the efficacy with which social media can recycle old information and present it as new, county law enforcement and school officials maintain local schools are safe.

Worcester County funds 14 part-time school resource deputies, which works out to one per school, to maintain school safety standards, Kim Moses, county public information officer, said.

However, there is no official word on how, exactly, those officers are used.

“In reference to personnel deployment, it is never a good idea to advertise how and when law enforcement is deployed. The sheriff is constantly trying to increase the manpower of the office to meet the ever-growing needs and demands that arise,” Lt. Ed Schreier, Sheriff’s Office spokesman, said.

Since the Parkland, Florida shooting that left 17 children dead and 14 seeking medical attention on Feb. 14, county schools and law enforcement have responded to two incidents involving threats.

According to Carrie Sterrs, board of education spokeswoman, Pocomoke High School’s main office received a phone call indicating a threat on Feb. 20. The matter was investigated while students and staff were secured. The investigation between law enforcement, the county’s fire marshal’s office and school administration determined that the threat was not credible.

Last Saturday, according to Sterrs, the schools became aware that a concerning social media post regarding Stephen Decatur Middle School had begun recirculating. This post was originally from an investigation that took place back in January, during which no students were in any danger, she said.

“We cannot comment further on the investigation, as disciplinary matters are protected by student privacy laws,” Sterrs said.

The situation got so tense, the state’s attorney’s office in partnership with the sheriff’s office, state police, each municipal police department and the affiliated agencies released a rare joint press statement on Feb. 24.

“The unfathomable tragedies of Parkland, Florida and other similar instances around the country have demonstrated the absolute necessity for responsive, informed and efficient law enforcement agencies,” the statement reads. “We will also continue to meet our obligations of keeping the public informed through traditional, verified and vetted means of communication. To that end, unless information regarding public safety originates with one of the aforementioned allied law enforcement agencies, we would ask you to treat it skeptically and with great caution.”

School Superintendent Lou Taylor also issued a statement on the situation.

“First and foremost, Worcester County Public Schools takes the safety of our students and staff very seriously. We work hard to ensure our schools are secure learning environments that enable to students to focus on what matters most – their education,” he said.

“Our school system community continues to evaluate and enhance the security of our schools in partnership with our local law enforcement and emergency services agencies.  While we understand the heightened level of anxiety around school safety during this time, we can confidently state that our schools are safe for student and staff attendance.”

Taylor said he had every confidence that the schools were safe “to the best of our ability” because of the commitment of law enforcement, parents, students and the schools themselves.

“As we have witnessed the tragic events in Florida and other areas, we know our community reflects on the possibility of something horrendous occurring here. This generates a fear. Fear can be very debilitating. Our mission is to combat crime, and eliminate the fear of crime,” Schreier said on behalf of Sheriff Reggie Mason. “We are committed to alleviate the fear some parents and students may have by ensuring we are here to serve our community.”

On Tuesday, March 13, there will be a school safety conference at Worcester Technical High School in Newark with national speakers, including law enforcement officials, educators and both survivors and parents affected by school shootings. After those comments, a panel discussion is scheduled to take place.

Worcester County is also planning a school safety meeting, but details are few at this time. Commissioner President Diana Purnell called for the meeting last week, but the schedule and format is unknown at this time.

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