Police less visible but still integral, says Montgomery Co. schools chief

Montgomery County Public Schools, Maryland’s largest public school system, decided not to have armed police officers — known as school resource officers, or SROs — in its buildings this year, but the district’s leader clarified Monday that law enforcement remains an integral part of the school community.

“Because we don’t have SROs in schools does not mean that we don’t have a relationship with the police department,” said Monifa McKnight, interim superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools.

McKnight spoke to students live on Instagram, saying officers have played a crucial role in directing traffic around busy schools as pandemic restrictions on in-person classes were lifted and students returned to buildings.

Reports of gunfire around Seneca Valley High School in Germantown led to lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders several times in recent weeks.

“We have relied on our police to go out and investigate what’s going on in the community,” McKnight said. “Those examples really speak to why it’s important to continue with that relationship.”

There have been other issues at Seneca Valley, including a fight during a football game against rival Northwest High School. One student had to go to the hospital and school officials decided to end the game early.

During the Instagram conversation, Hana O’Looney, the student member of the county’s board of education, said some of the tension among students has been a byproduct of the pandemic.

“Coming back together in-person for the first time in 18 months has put a lot of stress on students,” O’Looney said. “It manifests itself in very different ways and it’s important to remember that.”

McKnight called on the community to come together for an honest discussion to address hate and bias, referencing racist graffiti found at Walter Johnson High School and “racist and sexist” comments made by students at sporting events between Einstein and Sherwood high schools.

“I am concerned about it,” she said. “It’s going to take everyone’s input and dedication to say, ‘This is something that we all have to work on.'”

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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