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Is Montgomery County Ready to Confront Tragedy?

Are we doing everything we can in Montgomery County to prevent bullying, teen drug and alcohol use, or, worst case, a school shooting?


I have been struggling with what to write for my opening Patch blog—with so many issues near and dear to my heart, including my passions: community public safety, student safety, and general health and wellness—how would I decide where to begin blogging?

Last week there was a school shooting in Chardon, Ohio, a town about 30 miles outside of Cleveland. The suspect has been described by the Associated Press  “as an outcast who had apparently been bullied.” At this writing, three students are dead and two remain injured.

Recently we have seen local news stories of in and around our high schools. We have experienced the tragedy of teen suicides by victims of bullying in our county in the recent past. In April of 2009, less than three years ago, a bomb plot was thwarted at that targeted the school’s principal and a school counselor. Just two weeks ago we saw while the fight was still in progress. And let’s not forget the Discovery building active-shooter response so carefully handled by our county’s first responders in September 2010. Yes, these are just a few of the bad things have happened right here in Montgomery County—that have been broadcasted.

We must examine our culture closely: How could a school shooting like this happen in our country in this day and age, and what will prevent it from happening here? What other issues are we willing to pretend can’t or won’t happen here? What collaborative efforts are ongoing in Montgomery County to ensure incidents like this don’t happen here, and are handled successfully when they do?

Montgomery County is, indeed, one of the greatest places to live—therefore, we, as community members, need to make sure we are recognizing, addressing and confronting these issues head-on to prevent future tragedies. We mustn’t pretend these things won’t happen here, because many of them already have—many underreported and unpublicized.

Together we must acknowledge these issues and threats are real, and hold our elected officials accountable to maintain adequate public safety funding to prevent them from happening here, and, at a minimum, make sure that we all--not just first responders--are trained and prepared for them in case they do.  

Are WE ready? Let’s start the courageous conversations now, before it’s too late.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Susan Byrne March 07, 2012 at 07:56 PM
While SRO staffing can be a positive means to improving school safety, it is best to first ensure that more fundamental approaches are in place and practiced with fidelity by each school. Those include adequate counseling staff, effective educational programming, strong school-community relationships and communication fostering connectedness within the school community, and adequate supports for at-risk students. There is room for improvement in most MCPS schools. We should exert effort and resources toward these more productive means to the end of peace and harmony first. Without them, adding SRO staff would be less effective and perhaps even counterproductive.
Susan Burkinshaw March 08, 2012 at 05:49 PM
School Resource Officer (SRO) programs are a best practice across the country. In our region, Montgomery County is currently the only jurisdiction to have cut funding to this prevention and intervention program over the past few years. An effective SRO program is not a substitute for anything you have mentioned above within the school system, but is critical partnership between MCPS and MCPD that benefits not only the schools, but also the greater community surrounding the schools, and ultimately all residents of the county. Kids can't learn in an unsafe environment and we have a responsibility to make sure we are doing absolutely everything possible to maintain the sanctity of the learning environment. Anything short is a disservice to our kids, and, ultimately our community. We have to look at why other communities see the importance of SROs and some elected officials in Montgomery County don't see the need (thankfully most County Council Members have recently recognized the immeasurable value of the SRO program). We need to collaborate and work together to make sure ALL resources are in place for everyone's safety, but particularly for our kids in schools. This is not just a school issue, it is a community issue. As observed by Richard Rice above--we can't afford not to be doing everything we can for our kids, and ultimately our community.
Susan Byrne March 08, 2012 at 06:53 PM
From the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing (http://www.popcenter.org/responses/school_police/3) "Studies of SRO effectiveness that have measured actual safety outcomes have mixed results. Some show an improvement in safety and a reduction in crime; others show no change. Typically, studies that report positive results from SRO programs rely on participants' perceptions of the effectiveness of the program rather than on objective evidence. Other studies fail to isolate incidents of crime and violence, so it is impossible to know whether the positive results stem from the presence of SROs or are the result of other factors. More studies would be helpful, particularly research to understand the circumstances under which SRO programs are most likely to be successful." Now consider the "school to prison pipeline" problem (https://www.schooltoprison.org/) and all the evidence of how early on our schools mismanage student outcomes. Recently collected and released statistics on school suspension, retention, expulsion, seclusion, and restraint all show how poorly our educational institutions respond to behavioral challenges (http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2012/03/07/23data_ep.h31.html?tkn=ZYNFufbdskFDgZqRykv4QZjUKfG0mVDMPk7r&cmp=clp-edweek). I cannot find any evidence that suggests that MCPS, or any other schools, can cure these social ills with more policing. What students require is personal engagement, not policing and "consequences".
Beth March 08, 2012 at 07:53 PM
Ms. Byrne, with all due respect, please feel free to share with us just one study on the efficacy of an SRO program in which the crimes prevented was a statistic. Answer is, there aren't any, nor are there stats collected by our police to capture those stories.
Susan Byrne March 08, 2012 at 09:01 PM
The statistics that are pertinent are those documented by the Department of Education and the Office of Civil Rights, released in a public report just this week. "According to Education Department analysis of other civil rights data it also unveiled today, black and Hispanic students face disproportionate levels of discipline—more than 70 percent of students arrested or referred to law enforcement were Hispanic or black, as one example. Black students were 3 ½ times more likely to be expelled than their white peers. And while black students represented 21 percent of students with disabilities in the data analyzed, they represented 44 percent of students who were subjected to mechanical restraint." SRO efficacy is inconclusive at best; more studies are needed to determine whether and how it can be successfully implemented to achieve its stated objective. Meanwhile, we can identify policies and practices that are proven to better support students, provide positive behavioral support school-wide ("Check In Check Out" and "Collaborative Problem Solving" among them) and are known to contribute to successful student outcomes. We can justify allocating community resources and tax dollars best with such approaches that have strong evidence of efficacy. If SRO better addresses student success, I would appreciate the evidence.


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