- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2003

Schools in the District, Maryland and Virginia are holding exercises to prepare students in the event of a terrorist attack as fears heighten with the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Hundreds of students participated in a "shelter-in-place" simulation yesterday at Ketcham Elementary School in Southeast. Teachers calmly pretended to strip duct tape on classroom windows and place wet towels at the bases of classroom doors measures to minimize the effect of a chemical or biological attack. Students resumed regular studies after their classrooms had been "secured."
Ketcham Principal Joyce Grimes announced the drill over the public-address system at 1:30 p.m.
"We want students to know that the practice drills are similar to fire drills. We do not want students to feel intimidated or afraid," Mrs. Grimes said.
It was the second "shelter-in place" practice for Ketcham students, she said.
"None of the students have voiced concerns, and I sent a letter home to parents explaining what we are doing so that the children feel safe and secure in school."
Once the drill begins, Mrs. Grimes said, students are instructed to return to their homerooms immediately. Staffers ensure that all hallways and restrooms are cleared, then teachers begin to "seal" windows and doors and place wet towels at the bases of classroom doors.
"Teachers will take attendance and should any child be missing the teacher would immediately call the office. No one will be allowed to leave their classroom," she said.
Parents are asked not to come to the school in case of a terror emergency. Signs are posted throughout the school and on the outsides of doors.
Loudoun County also has a "shelter-in-place" plan. If necessary, the ventilation system would be shut off immediately.
Wayde Byard, public information officer for the school system, said, "We also have a hazardous materials response team that also helps coordinate our plans."
Prince George's County schools plan to shut off the ventilation and air-conditioning systems and seal doors, windows and vents in case of a biological or chemical attack.
An Anne Arundel County student inquired about work on a school ventilation system this week. Jane Beckett-Donohue, public information officer for the school system, said that the work was routine maintenance, and that she was unaware of any specific changes in the system.
"I am sure our systems have been beefed up, but what this student saw was likely a part of daily maintenance," said Mrs. Beckett-Donohue.
Many public schools across Virginia have canceled out-of-state field trips and taken other security precautions. Schools are attempting to hold down student anxiety levels by maintaining a focus on instruction and minimizing television viewing.
During the drill yesterday at Ketcham, 19 pre-kindergarten students took cover underneath their desks in a "stop, drop, cover and hold" mode while their teacher, Eunice Logan, prepared her classroom. The children remained quiet and unafraid. Shortly after Ms. Logan completed her checklist, the students still stretched under their desks were treated to a story.
Tracy Johnson's fifth-grade class went through the exercise like clockwork. The students sat quietly while their teacher completed her tasks. Students appeared relaxed and eager to get on with their studies.
Sabrina Edgar, 11, a bright-eyed student in Ms. Johnson's homeroom, smiled throughout the exercise. Being prepared is what it's all about, she said.
Mary Shaffrey contributed to this story.

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