Montgomery County schools are implementing a series of new and expanded school safety measures following increased violence, hate crimes, and generally increased safety concerns about the district’s school facilities.
In response to community concerns following a series of school-based violence and hate crime and harassment, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) has started to implement new and expanded school safety programs in a variety of policy and procedural areas.
On February 13, MCPS published a letter to Montgomery County students and families following several incidents in MCPS schools. That letter read:
Safety and security in our schools is a vital priority that we work to ensure through prevention measures, essential partnerships and immediate response to any incident. When our school environments are free from safety concerns, our students and staff can focus and perform at their highest levels. Recent stories in the news have led to worrisome thoughts and conversations by students, staff and parents. Despite these recent serious incidents, our 210 schools are some of the safest places in our community because of the attention and processes we have in place to support safety. To maintain high levels of safety, it is important that we all work together as partners.
MCPS detailed these measures in an April 12 letter. The letter outlined a series of comprehensive school facility safety measures the school district was taking, ranging from community engagement to facility technology and improvements. The letter, authored by MCPS Chief Operating Officer M. Brian Hull, opens:
I am writing to update you on the measures we have taken to ensure the safety of our students and staff in our schools. As a follow-up to our community letter, we have been working diligently to implement concrete actions focusing on resources, expectations, and community engagement.
MCPS spokesperson Jessica Baxter said the measures — which are outlined below — are being taken to combat “dangerous trends in access to illicit substances by our youth” and an “increase in hate and violent incidents.”
MCPS safety programs and initiatives
Community and partner engagement
Over the past few months, MCPS reports having hosted several community and partner engagement sessions, including:
- Three Fentanyl Forums;
- The first of two community listening sessions at the Upper County Community Recreation Center; and
- The first meeting of the Well-Being and School Safety Advisory Team, which is a collaborative group of MCPS staff, students, parents, county safety partners, and community group representatives. The Advisory Team will meet monthly and will provide input about district wide approaches to safety and security.
MCPS also plans to host another community listening session in the Down County Consortium in the future.
The schools district also reports continued collaboration with our law enforcement agency partners. MCPS has also provided each of its Community Engagement Officers (CEO) and law enforcement colleagues with key fobs to their assigned schools to allow them to swiftly access the school during and outside of school hours as needed for emergencies.
Safety focused staff development
MCPS has worked to deepen staff engagement in school safety, including by:
- Holding two of four scheduled staff engagement sessions to “deepen understanding and address questions about safety and emergency preparedness”;
- Standardizing expectations for security assistants, which increase consistency and coverage throughout our schools and offices;
- Establishing weekly meetings with school cluster security coordinators, security teams, and administrative staff for strategic and proactive collaboration and problem-solving; and
- Assessing our school public address systems throughout the district to ensure they all function correctly.
Improved hate bias Reporting
MCPS has “thoroughly” reviewed and revamped the serious incident reporting process for race and hate bias incidents, including by:
- Creating a separate form for incidents; and
- Requiring a parent conference for an identified offender prior to returning to school.
Emergency preparedness activities
MCPS reported that this school year, all schools have completed at least one emergency drill and that all students have been reintroduced to the emergency drill process to prepare them for an emergency. Additionally, schools and students will engage more frequently in the future:
- This spring, schools will be required to hold refresher drills on emergency preparedness, including Parent-Child Reunification (PCR) drills; and
- Students will frequently be reminded about safety precautions through school announcements and videos.
Increased security staffing
MCPS has increased security-designated staff in school facilities, including by:
- Allocating a permanent substitute to all high schools to address increased staff absences;
- Deploying security substitutes to schools with higher security absences and more significant security needs;
- Implementing MCPS security assistant rovers at the elementary level, in addition to the cluster assigned Community Engagement Officers (CEOs), that can be utilized as incidents arise; and
- Requesting 10 additional security assistants in the FY2024 budget and reviewing the process to allocate security staff within MCPS schools.
MCPS has continued the installation of hardware to keep bathroom doors open at the secondary level and implemented districtwide protocols for monitoring bathrooms.
School safety infrastructure and security pilot initiatives
MCPS will pilot two new safety initiatives in a select number of high schools in the coming weeks:
- Vape Detectors: Vape detectors are in the process of being installed in the bathrooms of a limited number of high school schools. These detectors will help to identify any instances of vaping or smoking in the bathrooms, allowing schools to take appropriate action to prevent harm to our students’ health and safety.
- Student Badges: The second program involves high school students wearing badges as a way to identify themselves on campus. This will help school staff and security personnel to quickly recognize students who belong on campus and identify any individuals who do not.
Furthermore, MCPS has completed one of three phases of camera installations at the elementary level to enhance its surveillance system. Phase 2 will be completed by May, and all installations by the end of the year.