Elementary schools upgrade security systems


Schools will install exterior cameras.

By Emilie Plesset, Online Editor-In-Chief

The Montgomery County Board of Education approved a request at its Jan. 8 meeting to add $364,000 of funding into the School Securities System Projects which will allow all MCPS elementary schools to install the new Access Control Systems (ACS) security system by June 30.

The ACS is part of a 2007 initiative to enhance MCPS school security. It includes exterior cameras installed by the entrances of schools, an intercom system and a remote strike release which will allow main office staff to unlock doors remotely.

“Middle and high schools have security staff to monitor their campuses,” said Robert Hellmuth, Director of the Department of School Safety and Security. “Elementary schools do not. It was decided that we would place ACS in elementary schools so that they could keep all of their exterior doors locked and control visitor access.”

Instead of keeping the doors into the building unlocked during recess, the doors can be locked and teachers can let students in using a swipe card.

“I think this is a great addition to the school,” said Bells Mill Elementary School Principal Intern Trish Thomas. “It is really going to help us secure the building. All teachers and students will feel safer.”

The new Beverly Farms Elementary School (BFES) building, which opened Jan. 9, already has the ACS installed.

“Parents have adjusted to the heightened security,” BFES parent and PTA member Mindy Kim said. “But I’m sure some would prefer the ‘friendliness’ of being able to walk right into the school, like in the old days.”

While the ACS does improve elementary schools security, parents note that it cannot completely guarantee student safety.

“It is far from foolproof,” BFES parent and PTA member Kirstin Cook said. “The front office could buzz in someone that they know, but who is upset and then carries out a violent act. I think it’s helpful but in a very limited way.”

According to Hellmuth, the next time the Board of Education has budget requests for the Capital Improvement Program, the Department of School Safety and Security will ask for funds to place the ACS in middle schools. There are no plans to extend the program into high schools due to its infeasibility.

“While all would prefer a world where ACS is not necessary, that is not reality in 2013,” Kim said. “We are lucky to live in a county that can make our school environment as safe as possible.”