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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 06, 2012 at 04:11 PM
Are we talking about more policing in our schools? All but one of the community threats mentioned has to do with our youth in school settings. Let's not demonize our students. Instead, let's reinvent our schools and our community so that we are all collaborating better for everyone's mutual benefit. Adults must set the tone of inclusion and support and positive coaching that gives every student the realization that they are valued for their unique gifts and that they have a welcome place in the community. Schools where students are bullied, where staff and administration are viewed as the enemy, where drugs and alcohol are attractive alternatives to the reality of an education that seems purposeless or misdirected...that's not the community our youth would build for themselves. We need to do a much better job helping them build the world of their own vision.
Jeff Hawkins March 06, 2012 at 04:36 PM
@Susan Good words Susan....well said, I agree 100%. My own 2 cents would be that in reality there really isn't a "damn" thing anyone can do if someone is bent on doing harm to others. Having said that we can help to do a better job of "setting the table" for our kids. My personal opinion is that parenting is lacking in a lot of cases. We have an awful lot of adults out there that can't or don't want to grow up themselves. We need more civic minded folks, I don't see alot of that anymore.
Beth March 06, 2012 at 05:43 PM
I don't think she is demonizing students at all. Quite the opposite, it's a focus on preventing potential tragedies for our kids. We have good students in our schools who sometimes make bad decisions - a natural part of growing up. Some of those bad decisions have inconsequential effects on family and friends, while others have life-altering effects. Our county council has chosen to have one of the most lean police departments in the nation - that's a fact. Similarly, while most jurisdictions are increasing or just maintaining their spending on school resource officers, Montgomery County has voted, two years in a row, to ELIMINATE ours. That's not an effective preventative on safety for our children. The County Executive does not value the SRO program, while the police, administrators, teachers and parents do. The one place where the police can develop relationships with the largest number of youth and get to know them before crimes are committed more than any other is in our schools. Schools serve as our kids' community for 10 months out of every year and approximately 35 hours out of every week. I believe in what she's blogging and think we need to take a harder look at the "ounce of prevention" piece.
Lori March 06, 2012 at 06:18 PM
Thanks for writing this Susan!! I applaud the lone principal who's willing to admit there are kids- good kids, who are starting to head down the wrong path, and then take action for prevention and appropriate discipline- with open forums, presentations, communication, and disciplinary action. Since this is a problem all over the country, and NO area is immune to it, It's sad that some figures of authority are afraid to reach out to the community with open communication - fearing it will lower the value of their schools. Not all problems can be solved with attempts at prevention and displine, but one cannot hide their heads in the sand. You have to try- and leave no stones unturned.
Richard Rice March 06, 2012 at 07:06 PM
Excellent comment Lori and Susan; the entire future of our county and state lies in the education and upbringing of our youth. We can't afford not to pour our hearts, souls and money into their future and ours!
Heather Macintosh March 07, 2012 at 02:30 AM
Really good questions. I find myself looking around my daughter's high school.. wondering if this kid or that kid might be a danger, and if he or she would get the help they need before another tragedy happens. It's not a magic cure, but there's a lot of research into what makes teenagers stressed, depressed,anxious and likely to make risky choices. Studies on chronic sleep deprivation and the mis-match between the teen body clock and very early high school start times indicate that pushing the school day back, just a bit, can have significant benefits in these mental health areas - as well as physical health and a long list of other issues. It's worth taking a look at as something that could help lessen the stress, anxiety and depression that many high schoolers are dealing with. Start School Later was started by a group of parents in Severna Park, Maryland, and we're working to bring awareness to the issue of too-early start times. We have a petition asking for an 8 a.m. earliest start time across the country so that individual school boards aren't pressured into sending our kids to school in the dark to save money on bus runs or squeeze an extra hour into sports practice. Let's say no to sending our kids to school in the dark. www.startschoollater.net for more information and the petition is at http://bit.ly/tWa4dS
Susan Byrne March 07, 2012 at 07:45 PM
@Heather, thank you for the Start School Later connection! Very informative and I have signed on after reading all the impressive testimony, science, and list of expert witnesses. Sleep deprivation and stressful schedules are certain among the list of "usual suspects" in causing breakdowns in function, attitude, and behavior. This is definitely something to be taken into account in promoting a better educational program for our students.
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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