WASHINGTON – The sniper attack on a 13-year-old Prince George’s County schoolboy this week triggered lockdowns and restrictions on students in about half of the state’s 24 counties Tuesday.
Counties as far away as St. Mary’s and Harford were keeping students inside and canceling afternoon activities Tuesday, even though both counties are about 60 miles from the Bowie middle school where a student was critically wounded Monday.
“We don’t have any real answers about what’s going on with the sniper situation,” said Kathleen Lyon, the director of pupil services for St. Mary’s County. “Schools traditionally are and continue to be one of the safest places for students. But the fact that someone took the opportunity to shoot at a child heightens our awareness.”
In Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, where six of the eight sniper attacks have occurred, extra police officers patrolled the schools, field trips were canceled, and parents were encouraged to help with arrival and dismissal of students.
State schools Superintendent Nancy Grasmick on Tuesday visited Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Bowie, where the boy was wounded a day earlier.
In neighboring Anne Arundel County, schools spokesman Michael Walsh said students were kept inside at all times during the day and after-school sports and other outside activities were canceled. In addition, police patrolled the grounds of the county’s 120 schools.
“The administration and parents wants to make sure students are safe,” Walsh said. “We feel we have taken necessary precautions. But it hits home more when it’s at a school.”
Charles County schools also kept students inside Tuesday, but after-school activities went on as planned.
“There is obvious concern and people are being cautious,” said Katie O’Malley-Simpson, a spokeswoman for Charles County schools. “But at some point we have to decide to go forward. The sheriff suggested that we carry on with life.”
She said that Charles County school attendance was actually slightly higher on Tuesday than it was last week.
The Maryland State Department of Education has been in contact with all of the state’s public schools. But, while the department has guidelines for how schools should respond to the attacks, the decision to lock down classrooms or cancel events is a local one, a department spokesman said.
Elsewhere in the state, schools in Baltimore City and Howard, Frederick, Calvert and Baltimore counties imposed varying degrees of restrictions. While all had some sort of restrictions on outdoor activities during the day, they were split on cancellation of after-school activities.
Not all school systems could be contacted Tuesday to comment, but web sites of the remaining jurisdictions did not indicate any restrictions.
The restrictions have had an impact beyond the local school systems. In Howard County, for example, schools spokeswoman Anna Gable said some Howard County Community College students have dropped out of classes, because some night classes that are held at local schools have been canceled since Thursday.
The length of the restrictions on school activities — which began Thursday in some counties, with the first spate of shootings — is also starting to have an impact.
In Harford County, a spokesman for the county’s schools said if activities are canceled Wednesday, homecoming at two high schools may have to be postponed or canceled.
“We’re at a critical stage,” said Donald Morrison, the Harford spokesman. “We’re anxious to get back to normal circumstances. If we can’t have practice on Wednesday, we would have to look at canceling homecoming.”