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MCPS releases school safety report amidst sexual assault cases

Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) recently released an interim report on school safety and security. In the wake of Rockville High School’s rape case last March, superintendent Jack Smith commissioned this security review to evaluate safety measures in the county’s 25 high schools, hiring officials and consultants for $37,000.

High Schools across the county reacted swiftly to the Rockville incident. Richard Montgomery’s principal Damon Monteleone released a memorandum to his security team, urging for self-assessment and feedback. New policies were immediately put into effect, targeting forgotten corners of the school building that are often exploited for inappropriate conduct.

Recent events have made MCPS security members an object of concern. Last school year, Mark Yantsos of Richard Montgomery and Mike Lievano of Col. E. Brooke Middle School were both arrested and charged for sexually abusing teenagers.

While 355 people were arrested on school property during the 2016-2017 school year, MCPS’ suspensions and expulsions have declined considerably in recent years to among the lowest in the state.

In the report, MCPS strongly advocates for restorative justice, a discipline that gives offenders opportunities to learn from their mistakes, instead of resorting to a zero-tolerance policy. Restorative justice promotes stronger relationships, allowing students to reflect and improve instead of letting their mistakes define them.

“We don’t just want to lock up kids up and throw away the key; we want every mistake to be a learning experience. Kids who are suspended without any attempt of school systems to rehabilitate or educate or if we just essentially do the equivalent of locking the kid of up in school, the chances of that student eventually being locked up in society dramatically escalates,” Monteleone said.

In regard to technology, MCPS boasts hundreds of cameras, averaging about a hundred for each school. Additionally, all elementary and middle schools are now equipped with Access Control Systems, which allow visitors to be seen by personnel within the school building.

“In some schools, every student’s ID card has a magnetic strip which you swipe in order to enter the building. This is a very good idea as my biggest fear is not kidsmy biggest fear is somebody coming into the building,” Monteleone said.

The report notes the ineffectiveness of cameras at preventing inappropriate behavior. Instead, the report recommends using such technology to its full potential to collect data. Such data collection is already evident on the MCPS website, which exhibits years of data for each school.

For instance, a 2014 fall Gallup survey found that 75% of students agreed with the statement, “I feel safe at school.” While students have not had this survey administered to them since, parents surveyed during the 2015-2016 school year agreed with this sentiment far more their children. The report recommends yearly surveys on school climate and suggests that students aid in designing such surveys.

However, as detailed in the report, safety cannot be ensured by only adding more cameras or hiring more staff. Principal Monteleone echoes this sentiment.

“One of the most important things is to have good people doing the work, because all the measures you put in place, all the memorandum that you write, and the policies that you have mean nothing unless people actually execute them,” Monteleone said.

Consequently, the report emphasizes the need for properly trained and qualified personnel. Additionally, the document recommends the recruitment of more female and bilingual staff, in order to better serve our increasingly diverse community.

Currently, all school-based security staff train in January and August, in addition to a yearly first aid/CPR/AED training. High school team leaders complete an additional six trainings during each school year. For students, ten fire drills and six emergency preparedness drills are required each school year.

In a recent collaboration with the Montgomery County’s Police Department, Child Welfare Services and State Attorney’s Office, MCPS recently overhauled protocols for recognizing and reporting child abuse and neglect. Updated volunteer requirements require volunteers to complete online training in Child Abuse and Neglect. These procedural adjustments highlight MCPS’ recent endeavors to strengthen security through further involvement and collaboration with local organizations.

“As a community, ultimately like any community, the more we know each other, the more we try to relate to each other and understand each other, the better community we will be and the safer we will be,” Monteleone said.

The interim report can be found at http://www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/uploadedFiles/departments/security-new/0204.18_MCPS%20InternalReview.pdf. Individual school reports can be found at http://www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/departments/sharedaccountability/safetyglance/.  

Article by MoCo Student staff writer Alice Zhu of Richard Montgomery High School

About The MoCo Student

In 2012, Student Member of the Board of Education John Mannes created a countywide press network to help build a conduit to share fresh and relevant information written by youth to the wider Montgomery County student body.

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