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County Schools Cautious After Sandy Hook Shooting

County schools are focusing on safety and support measures after the Connecticut school shooting.

Update - 5 p.m. - This post has been updated to include information about a new joint task force dedicated to identifying and dealing with possible violence.

Howard County schools are focusing on safety and support measures in the wake of the deadly school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

On Monday, the school system reported it would hold staff meetings to review emergency plans at each school, discuss visitor policies and guideline reporting procedures for suspicious activity, according to a county statement.

"We must remain vigilant and provide our children and teachers with the help they may need," said County Executive Ken Ulman in a statement.

The school system has asked teachers, administrators and other staff to look for signs of students struggling to cope with the tragedy and direct them to the appropriate services.

Lisa Booth, principal at Hollifield Station Elementary School in Ellicott City, wrote in a letter to parents that staff would not be discussing the tragedy in Connecticut, but said school staff would monitor students and meet with any students who express concern.

"We had a smooth start to the day today," wrote Jonathan Davis, principal of Bollman Bridge Elementary in a letter to parents. "There were only a few students who had a question or comment about the incident on Friday. Our staff did an amazing job in responding to them in a brief yet supportive manner."

Davis added it was great to have the students back at school in their normal routine.

Staff at Bushy Park Elementary School and Cradlerock Elementary reported they did not share news of the shooting with their students, as "students had a chance to have these conversations with [parents] over the weekend," according to a letter sent to parents.

Bushy Park Elementary noted parents can use the "Keeping Schools and Our Students Safe" page on Howard County public schools' website to find more information on how to discuss the shooting with your children.

Supt. Renee Foose noted in a statement that schools take a comprehensive approach to keeping students safe, such as having emergency plans, security cameras covering main entrances, visitors required to sign in and school resource officers placed at high schools and middle schools.

Starting Monday, police will increase patrols at county schools.

Ulman along with Howard County Police Chief William McMahon announced on Monday the formation of a new joint task force to increase communication between mental health professionals, school staff and police in the county.

"We'll be in constant communication with folks in the school system," said Ulman. "And we'll work with students and families when we hear potential issues."

"The biggest thing is when we have a student who is showing behavior that concerns us or a parent or a school staff member that we have channels to take care of them," said McMahon.

Ulman said that people need to recognize warning signs in people who may need help.

"We have a culture of violence and you never know what gets in the head of someone who is not well and causes them to do something like this," said Ulman.

"We need to work on collaboration ahead of time to address students who may be challenged by these types of mental conditions," added Ulman.

In Baltimore County, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and Police Chief Jim Johnson called on state and federal lawmakers to tighten gun laws by eliminating exceptions to national background checks as well as ending the sale of "military-grade assault weapons" and magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

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