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The Student News Site of Thomas S. Wootton High School

Common Sense

The Student News Site of Thomas S. Wootton High School

Common Sense

The Student News Site of Thomas S. Wootton High School

Common Sense

MCPS high schools prohibit breaking out, what about breaking in?

Rockville+security+team+leader+Teressa+Holmes+questions+senior+and++Common+Sense+reporter+Maria+Sofronas+after+her+attempt+to+enter+the+school.+Youre+going+to+have+to+go+around+to+the+front+of+the+school+and+enter+through+the+main+office%2C+Holmes+said.
Photo by Elizabeth Mehler
Rockville security team leader Teressa Holmes questions senior and Common Sense reporter Maria Sofronas after her attempt to enter the school. “You’re going to have to go around to the front of the school and enter through the main office,” Holmes said.

The weather begins to warm up as the third quarter comes to a close. Consequently, my friends and I moved our lunchtime location to the stairs by the pillars so we could enjoy the sun while eating outside. While sitting by the side doors of the school, we noticed alarming occurrences. Not once, but twice, adult men who do not attend or work at our school were able to enter the building with ease while delivering food to students.

This shocking and concerning ordeal sparked an important question: How easy is it for outsiders to break into MCPS schools? I decided to test this out at schools in our community and document my findings.

On Tuesday, Mar. 19, I visited four MCPS high schools during their lunch periods to investigate how easy it was to enter the building. First, I made my way past Rockville Town Square to Richard Montgomery’s campus. After parking in the student lot, I put on my disguise – a backpack – and started toward a side entrance of the school. I immediately noticed students walking around the parking lot, heading to and from the school building, making it simple for me to blend in. Through the glass doors, I eyed a security guard and doubted my chances. To my surprise, however, the security guard opened the exterior doors, letting me in to freely roam the halls. I was able to take a lap around the first floor and exit the building without being questioned about my identity.

Following RM, I visited Rockville. The outcome of this visit was polar to my first experience. As I entered the parking lot, I noticed there were no students around the exterior of the building despite it being their lunch period. Furthermore, there were staff members visible through the windows near multiple exits and a security guard circling the campus with a golf cart. I parked in the student lot and started walking toward a back entrance near the field, but I didn’t make it far before being stopped. A security guard noticed my car pulling in and walked outside to meet me before I got near the school.

Rockville’s security team leader Teressa Holmes approached me as I exited my car. She questioned why I was pulling in at this time, and what I was doing outside of school. I told her I was reporting for an article for a newspaper at a different high school, and she directed me to enter through the front of the building before alerting the main office through her walkie-talkie. She noted this was a necessary measure because of how easily I could blend in with the Rockville students. “I’m sorry, I need a staff name or who you’re here to see. This is the student lot, so you’re not allowed to park here but you can pull around to the front to enter,” Holmes said.

After this, I was confident in the security of the premises and let her know I was doing research on school security and that she had been sufficient in securing the school.

Next, I visited Churchill. This campus was by far the easiest to intrude on. The doors to the cafeteria were left wide open, with students crowding around the exits. I slipped through the crowd and proceeded past students, staff and security. I was able to spend several minutes walking through the halls and even use the bathroom. My exit was just as simple. I wasn’t questioned for lacking a backpack or for filming in the halls either.

Finally, I visited Walter Johnson at the tail end of their lunch period. I parked in their student lot, walked by a security guard, and went to an entrance where students inside were visible. All it took for me to get in was knocking on the door. Immediately, WJ students let me in, and I was able to circle the halls and leave with ease.

By the end of my investigation, I was concerned with how easy it was for me to enter three schools I did not attend. Although it may have been easier to enter some schools due to their open-lunch policies, it still should not have been so simple for an outsider to enter the building. I was able to gauge how easily a dangerous person could pose a threat to the school. Rockville’s security demonstrated exemplary precautions to maintain an unthreatened environment.

At this school, our security team works diligently to provide the school community with a safe environment. Having years of experience as a security guard at several MCPS schools, Security Team Leader Ray Blankenship is experienced in the measures the team takes to keep the school safe and keep students from leaving campus. “We have different people at different posts outside. Many people don’t know this, but we also have a security guard from central office here to help us out, parked in the white car at the entrance of the parking lot,” Blankenship said.

Along with these basic measures, Blankenship said becoming acquainted with the students at the school is the main way he helps keep them safe. “Once we learn which students have half-day schedules and know who’s coming in and out, it’s easier to gauge if people are where they’re supposed to be,” Blankenship said.

Just as important as keeping students on campus is keeping strangers out. Being familiar with the student body is vital for this duty. “The best way to do that is knowing our kids. I know almost every student, who they walk with and who hangs out with who. I can tell something’s off if people are gathering around or coming to enter through the wrong door. A lot of times students invite other students, we can pick it off,” Blankenship said.

There have been occasions when students from other schools have been let into our school this year and were at the stake of facing grave consequences if they did not adhere to the security team’s requests to exit the premises. “If the students come unannounced, they usually get trespassed. A trespass letter is what happens when you go to an MCPS school you don’t go to and you get caught. The principal signs off on it and a memo gets sent to all MCPS schools letting them know who to watch out for,” Blankenship said.

Blankenship stressed the most important way to maintain safety is for students and security guards to share the responsibility. “The greatest responsibility is on the students. Let us know if you see something off, and only open the door if you know the person. If it’s someone you don’t know, just point to the front of the school. There are thousands of you and only five of us, so it needs to be a joint effort,” Blankenship said.

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