Montgomery County re-imagines school safety and student well-being

A high schools empty hallway because school is closed due to the caronavirus in March 2020.(Getty Images/iStockphoto/WoodysPhotos)
A culture change involving school security is coming to Montgomery County, Maryland, public schools.

The Reimagining Students’ Safety and Well-Being initiative announced Friday will focus on public safety in schools and how best to provide social and mental health support for students and their families.

It’s a collaborative effort.

The steering committee for the initiative will include representatives from Montgomery County Public Schools, the county’s Department of Health and Human Services, the police department, the County Council, Board of Education and students.

At a news conference announcing the initiative, Council member Will Jawando recognized work leading up to the initiative that was done by student organizers.

“Next year, as a result of their work, not only will there not be police officers in schools in an enforcement capacity, we have come together as this interagency, the school board, the county council, the executive, to work together, build support, social, emotional, mental health, wrap around services after school that are going to help all students,” Jawando said.

Jawando pledged that the council would work through the budget process and into the fall to ensure funding for more school psychologists, more social workers and more counselors.

“That will come out of this process. It’s a historic day for the county,” he said.

Jawando said a task force that he and fellow council member Craig Rice have pulled together in collaboration with the school system will be student-centered, with students comprising more than half its members.

“There’s been much debate about the school resources officers program,” Nick Asante, student member of the Montgomery County School Board said.

The “student experience with the presence of police” in schools, he said, has been a topic of discussion for years. Acknowledging that the school system has been addressing issues related to restorative justice practices and student needs and incidents, he believes more needs to be done.

“The data clearly demonstrates that there are disproportionate rates of suspensions and expulsions in MCPS for Black and Latino students,” Asante said.

Some might question whether Maryland’s Safe to Learn Act would prevent the removal of school resource officers from schools, but the 2021 Reimagining Public Safety Task Force states that the act only calls for high schools to have “adequate law enforcement coverage” which is up to the districts to define by law.

That student-centered task force will forward its recommendations to the multiagency steering committee as each group works. The committee will have actionable recommendations for the county executive and acting schools superintendent by June 15, with a final report expected by Sept. 30.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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