by Lexi Matthews ‘18
Following public backlash over sexual incidents across the school system last spring, Superintendent Jack R. Smith has announced his plans to make school safety as high of a priority as academic performance moving forward.
The announcement, released September 1, immediately followed the publication of the results of a county-wide security review initiated in March. Smith launched the review after a sexual rendezvous in a Rockville High School bathroom made national news, vowing to strengthen the county’s assurance of unrelenting safety. All 25 high schools were examined throughout summer by a task force comprised of the MCPS Department of School Safety and Security, the Office of School Support and Improvement, and two third-party consulting experts.
“Our overall findings reflect that there is a robust security system in MCPS that includes thousands of cameras, hundreds of security personnel, engaged teachers and administrators, and partnerships with other government agencies. In addition, there are a number of concrete steps that MCPS can take to enhance this security infrastructure to ensure that students and staff remain secure,” wrote William Modzeleski, one of the third-party consultants.
In response to these conclusions, Smith and his colleagues came up with a report that lists seven core steps to prioritize and thus improve school security, accompanied by thirty more specific instructions for teachers, administrators, and students. These steps include obvious physical changes to schools, as well as proposals to revamp systematic practices in the county.
“School safety cannot be achieved merely by adding more cameras or more security staff. It is equally important to foster a culture and climate that incorporates safety into daily operations at every school,” said Smith at a board meeting. To accomplish this, the report suggests a communications campaign to survey perceived security levels among students and staff, a website to report and monitor this data, stricter guidelines for hallway monitoring, and a more efficient incident report system.
Using the $1.5 million allocated to security upgrades in June, MCPS also plans to make structural changes to its high schools to enhance safety. More cameras will be installed in nearly every school, classroom doors that cannot lock from the inside will be replaced by ones that can, and school entrances will be reconfigured to lead directly into the main office instead of a school hallway. Principal Bill Gregory expressed his affirmation for this last proposal reaching Sherwood in the near future. “We all agree it’s a more secure way of monitoring visitors. I’d like to see a redesign of that whole front area to reflect this.”
Experts consulted in the report stress the importance of maintaining a communal, trustworthy atmosphere across schools to best ensure safety. As a result, they encourage more extensive training procedures for security members, a more open dialogue between students and administrators about security, and better preparation for how to cope with similar incidents moving forward.“If you don’t have the right people with the right approach to kids, it will all be for naught,” said Andrew Zuckerman, MCPS chief operating officer.