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Montgomery Co. superintendent supports protests, worries about safety during walkouts

School students from Montgomery County, Md., in suburban Washington, rally in solidarity with those affected by the shooting at Parkland High School in Florida, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON — The head of public schools in Montgomery County, Maryland, is expressing concern about student safety after large groups decided to walk out of class this week as part of a nationwide protest against gun laws.

In a letter posted online Thursday, Superintendent Jack Smith said he supports students who speak their minds, but he cautioned against walkouts.

“Leaving school property poses a significant safety risk,” he wrote. “MCPS does not have the staff or resources to ensure students are safe during the school day when they are not on a school campus.”

More than 1,000 students from several Montgomery County high schools walked out Wednesday, marching to Metro stations so they could attend a rally at the U.S. Capitol building.

Young people around the country have called for stricter gun laws after 17 were killed in last week’s shooting at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

“There’ve been so many school shootings and the government hasn’t done anything,” said one freshman who walked out of Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring.

Officials said that students who left school buildings would have unexcused absences.

In his letter, Smith voiced support for schools and students who arranged on-campus protests.

“This ensured students were able to express their opinions in a supportive and safe environment,” he wrote.

“MCPS strongly supports students who engage in the civic process and share thoughts on the issues they are passionate about.”

Another topic Smith touched on was a spike in threats against school systems around the country, including Montgomery County’s schools, since the Florida shooting occurred.

Smith said that most threats he has seen have not been credible, but he assured that school officials take seriously and investigate every report that comes in.

“We know that these incidents have created anxiety and fear around school safety for our students, families and staff across the county, he wrote. “MCPS remains committed to ensuring students are safe in our schools.”


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