WASHINGTON – As news of a Montgomery County shooting spree circulated throughout the state Thursday, school systems as far away as Baltimore County took steps to protect their students.
While school officials have the difficult job of keeping the students safe without causing panic in crisis situations, many said Thursday that the random nature of the shootings and the fact that suspects were still at large forced their hand.
“Whoever was doing this is still out there,” said Carey Gaddis, a spokeswoman for the Carroll County School District, where students were kept inside and afternoon activities were canceled. “That played a large part in the decision. This is random which makes it very scary.”
In Baltimore County, all interscholastic athletic events were canceled and e-mail alerts to school principals told them to limit their outdoor activities.
In Frederick County, which borders Montgomery County, all schools were put on lockdown at 11:15 a.m. and principals in each of the county’s 55 schools made announcements alerting students of the shootings, said spokeswoman Marita Loose. The county did go ahead with its afternoon activities and sporting events.
But some counties said local police did not believe their students were in any danger, so no extra precautions were taken.
In Cecil County, the only change to normal procedures was the postponement of a junior varsity football game between Cecil County High School and Poolesville High School that was to be played in Montgomery County Thursday afternoon.
“We were aware of the situation but we had no information that we were in any danger,” said Cecil County schools spokeswoman Karen Emery. “Should something of a similar nature occur here, we would go into lockdown mode.”
Maryland State Department of Education spokesman Bill Reinhard said some counties called the state Thursday, but that the decision to keep students indoors or cancel activities was left to the local school districts.
Officials at many schools, said Thursday’s shootings reminded them of them of the situation they were placed in on Sept. 11, 2001.
“It’s always questionable how much you tell kids,” said Phyliss Parker, a secretary for the Howard County schools press office.
Parker said Howard County went into lockdown at about 12:30 p.m. and canceled all afternoon sporting events. An after-school childcare program, which is held indoors went on as planned.
“I think it was precautionary, because they don’t know where these guys are and they don’t want to take any chances,” Parker said.
In some instances, parents did come and pick their children up early. But Michelle Yu, president of the Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations, supported the decision to keep kids in school, saying it is one of the safest places for them.
Dismissing early also would have caused logistical problems for many working parents, she said.
Yu said her daughters — in elementary, middle and high school — were all informed of the shootings differently.
At Cold Spring Elementary School, her daughter Catherine was told over the loudspeaker that the school was in a Code Blue and nobody was allowed outside. Her sister Charlene, an eighth-grader at Cabin John Middle School, learned of the lockdown in the morning and was told later in the day that five people were killed.
The oldest girl, Christine, an 11th grader at Thomas S. Wootton High School knew more about the shootings than her mother, because she and her classmates monitored the situation on television during classes.
“I really appreciate the fact that elementary school teachers did not tell kids, because they cannot process it,” said Yu, who canceled a Thursday night PTA meeting. “But in high school, the students are capable of handling the situation.”