WASHINGTON – From bullying prevention to bolstering security procedures at school entrances, parents voiced their concerns and offered suggestions on how to make schools safer at Wednesday night’s Montgomery County Council of PTAs meeting.
Parents lined up at microphones to speak and commented to a panel made up of school, county and police department officials.
Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger made mention of President Barack Obama’s executive actions, saying many are common sense measures. Manger also talked up the work of the county’s School Resource Officers, or SROs.
“God forbid that some awful tragedy like happened in Connecticut happened here – these men,” Manger said pointing to three SROs in the back of the auditorium, “would put themselves between the bad guy and your child – and would do it in a heartbeat.”
At that point, the crowd of parents broke into applause.
Six police officers are assigned to the county’s high schools. They aren’t assigned to middle or elementary schools. When a parent asked about that, Bob Hellmuth, director of the Department of School Security and Safety, pointed out that staff and teachers are trained to alert the school system’s own security details to any unusual situation.
“Just because we don’t have a security assistant at a school doesn’t mean we don’t have security.”
Montgomery County Councilmembers Craig Rice and Phil Andrews told the parents that they’d been strong supporters of the school resource officer program, and Rice made it clear he’d like to restore the number of officers to prior levels.
At one point, there was a plan to post 32 officers in county high schools. The number was eventually set at 12 officers, and last year, due to budget cuts, Rice said, the number was dropped to six.
At the end of the night, Montgomery County Police Commander Luther Reynolds told the crowd, “We need to maintain this sense of urgency.”
He mentioned how after the Sept. 11, 2011 terror attacks people were suddenly engaged and kinder to each other.
“Two weeks later, everybody’s back to cutting each other off and honking their horns,” Reynolds said.
“To see this level of engagement, this level of concern, this level of discussion of these details is a very, very positive thing. Show me a community that is really engaged, and I’ll show you a community that’s on the right track.”
Editor’s note: Schools do have their own security staff but the SRO program puts a Montgomery County Police officer in the school. Right now, six officers are assigned to all the county’s high schools. They are based in one school and check in on the others.
An SRO is not the same as a regular security guard. An SRO is a sworn officer on the county force. A security guard is an employee of MCPS.