As local boards of education work with police forces and legislators to propose and fund measures to improve school safety, students are ensuring their voices are not lost.
While some observers may consider school walkouts an excuse to miss classes, Anna Selbrede, student member of the Howard County Board of Education, believes such acts offer an important perspective on the issue.
“We are the students in schools where this is happening,” she said, “and we should have the right to be heard when we speak.”
On Feb. 22, Selbrede passed a resolution recognizing the rights of students to express their views on matters relating to student well-being. The resolution states that “the Howard County Board of Education recognizes that the events in Parkland, Fla., have served as a nationwide call-to-action to address school safety, as well as the power of student voice.”
The “events in Parkland” refer to the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 17 students and faculty. Since, students have been participating in walkouts, among other protests to voice their concerns about school safety, which recently resulted in the well-attended (estimates are varying greatly) March For Our Lives in Washington, D.C.
Closer to Home
Selbrede’s resolution was passed 26 days before a student opened fire at Great Mills High School (in St. Mary’s County, in Southern Maryland), injuring a 14-year-old boy and critically injuring a 16-year-old girl, who died March 23. The gunman shot himself and died shortly thereafter of his injuries.
The very next day, Selbrede was among hundreds of students from Howard and Anne Arundel counties who traveled to Washington, D.C., for the march, the nationwide protest against children being shot in schools.
More than 200 Howard County students attended the march, with busloads leaving from local churches, community centers, park-and-rides and schools, with others making their own way. Participation was organized by students, but was not sponsored by the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS).
“As for constructive ways students can have a voice, they are doing a great job right now finding them,” said Selbrede. “Walkouts and speeches call attention to the issue, and the march in Washington makes it even bigger.”
Students also have been contacting their school systems to promote local measures and ask about what is being done, as well as questioning policymakers with letters and visits, said Selbrede.
The social media campaign #enough — a movement to prevent gun violence — is also helping students keep the conversation going, she said.
From the Adults
In addition to measures being debated at both county and state levels, local school systems and police forces are taking measures to improve school safety.
In a March 27 press conference, Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman announced he will include $1.1 million in his fiscal 2019 Capital Budget to enhance the security of school buildings, and include nearly $800,000 in his Operating Budget to hire three additional School Resource Officers (SROs) and a supervisor.
Kittleman said he was making this funding a priority in his upcoming budgets after a recent HCPSS security assessment determined that not all school buildings are fully secure.
“I was deeply disturbed to learn that there were some security issues that need to be addressed,” said Kittleman. “There is nothing more important than the safety of our students, teachers, administrators and staff. This additional funding will help the school system address any shortcomings.”
HCPSS Interim Superintendent Michael Martirano spoke of the importance of working collaboratively with county and community partners to establish a safe learning environment for all children and school staff.
“Keeping our students and staff safe is my number one priority, and it requires the collaborative efforts of our county and community partners,” said Martirano. “From immediate physical measures, such as installing buzzer systems at each high school, to long-term cultural shifts, such as cultural proficiency training, keeping our schools safe requires a multi-pronged approach. I am encouraged by the investments announced today and appreciate the county’s commitment to help us implement the necessary security resources in our schools.”
Howard County Police Chief Gary Gardner said police have already taken additional measures to increase security and safety at county schools. Most recently, Gardner and Kittleman have expanded the police department’s mandatory foot patrol program, which in the past has included places like shopping centers and apartment complexes, to include schools.
These interactive visits will enable officers to be familiar with the layout of the schools in the event of an emergency; develop positive relationships with students; and get to know the administrators and front office staff at the schools in their patrol beats.
Up and Running
In Anne Arundel County, Steve Schuh, county executive; Board of Education President Julie Hummer; Superintendent George Arlotto and Police Chief Tim Altomare announced a $14.8 million funding proposal to protect the school system’s 82,000 students.
The proposal would fund 20 additional school resource officers, enough to station one at every county high school and middle school; 1,500 cameras for schools; lock upgrades for 4,000 doors in county schools; double-door security systems at all high schools; and protective tactical equipment for every school.
The plan would be funded over two years, with some costs defrayed by state funds.
Arlotto also announced that the school system will reinstitute its School Safety & Security Council, composed of school, county, law enforcement and community officials, as well as parents and students. “We intend to have it up and running before the end of the school year,” said Anne Arundel County Public Schools spokesman Bob Mosier.
Anne Arundel schools also will be asked to make space available for patrol officers to use on down time in between calls, so that those officers can provide additional presence in the county’s 120-plus school facilities.