Denying We Have a School Safety Problem is Dangerous12/15/2006
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Denial is dangerous.
That’s what has concerned me and school safety advocates not only in my own Senatorial (St. Mary’s, Calvert, Charles) district, but also throughout the state and the country.
Despite numerous incidents of school violence, including a recent stabbing at Great Mills High School as well as 19 police officers responding to three fights in succession at Lackey High School this past week, many top school officials continue to downplay the fact that our schools are not as safe as they should be.
This is simply not true. Teachers, building service workers, administrators and other support staff, bus drivers, parents, students and parents constantly tell me that they are very concerned about this issue. It disturbs me that some schools and school systems are not addressing this issue as seriously as they should.
Incredibly, the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, fought against Senate Bill 501 in the 2005 General Assembly Session, which would have established a blue ribbon task force to study the issue of school safety in our public and private schools.
Thankfully, this bill did pass in the last legislative session with the governor’s signature and is currently being staffed.
I have written about my concerns regarding school safety several times, but after the recent incident at Great Mills, it’s finally time for local school systems to fully address this issue on a school-by-school basis.
The task force will only be successful if they come to the table knowing that the issue of school safety should be paramount. Denying that each school, private or public, has a potential problem will not do our children and those who are there to protect them any good.
Ironically, the day I was writing this column, I got the following e-mail from a constituent:
"A friend who works at a local school called to say her car was making weird noises. I said I'd take off early to go take a look at it. I arrived at [the school] around 2:40 p.m. and went to the front office. Nobody was there. I waited about five minutes. Since the door to the rest of the school was wide open, I decided to walk to the other end of the school where I thought she'd be. I walked throughout the halls of the east wing of the school peeking in rooms looking for her.
I approached a staff member and asked if she knew where my friend would be.
She checked her usual location, but she wasn't there. The staff member told me that she would definitely be in the front office in 10 minutes since she does announcements. I walked back to the area just outside the office, and sat on a bench. At 3:00 p.m., my friend showed up, and immediately asked where my visitors badge was as I was sitting in an area that required one.
She was shocked when I told her I had actually been roaming the halls for 20 minutes, and had even spoken to a staffer without ever being challenged."
I am thankful to the writer of that e-mail for apprising me of that particular situation and for letting me use it to further make my point about this issue.
I am pleased that the Maryland State Teachers Association [MSTA] is addressing this issue very strongly. On February 24, 2007, the MSTA is offering an Education Support Professional (ESP) Development Conference. One course entitled Crisis Response Team (CRT) Training will show teachers and other school personnel how to prepare their school community for emergency health and safety concerns, including school violence, according to the recent edition of the association’s newsletter, ActionLine.
In that same newsletter, ActionLine highlighted the efforts of Steve Brooks, Calvert County’s ESP president. Mr. Brooks and a police officer "drew a detailed map of Patuxent High School, plus a photo guide of every entrance and exit in the building, including those only a seasoned building supervisor or maintenance employee would know," according to ActionLine.
"I know my building inside and out," Mr. Brooks was quoted as saying. "With this new site plan, if something should ever happen, [police] officers will be able to get in and move around and nobody would even know they were in the building. It was a good team effort and made our school safer."
This is an example of a very proactive and encouraging step taken by a single school has come up with a great way to address this very serious issue.
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