School safety dominates parents’ concerns before Montgomery County school board

Last month’s shooting at a Maryland high school prompted a number of comments from parents and one young student, who testified before the Montgomery County Board of Education on Tuesday.

Annmarie Boyd, the parent of a Magruder High School student, told the board that her son “recently spent a very traumatic Friday afternoon in lockdown with his classmates.” She was referring to the shooting that left one student critically injured and another charged as an adult.

“School safety and gun violence prevention are very much on my mind these days,” Boyd said, her voice shaking slightly.

Boyd is a volunteer with the group Moms Demand Action, and she urged the board to distribute the “Be Smart” message from the organization Everytown for Gun Safety, which says on its website that the purpose of the program is to increase awareness of secure gun storage and “keep kids from accessing guns.”

Eric Greynolds, another volunteer with Moms Demand Action, told board members that in 2015, when his son was 3 years old, “he walked into the kitchen of the home we were visiting with a revolver in his left hand.” Reynolds said he got the loaded firearm away from the toddler.

“We were lucky,” Greynolds said. Like Boyd, he urged the school system to distribute information from the “Be Smart” campaign across the school district.

Joey Sophir, a sixth-grader at Julius West Middle School, also testified on the issue of firearm safety. Sophir also urged the adoption of the “Be Smart” program.

Sophir said the past two years has been hard on students, but added, “While COVID and virtual school was stressful, we at least had a break in worrying about sheltering in place and lockdown drills.”

There were other concerns as well, including the debate over the role of Montgomery County police as community engagement officers, or CEOs. The role is under discussion by the board of education.

Monifa McKnight, who was just appointed for a full term as the Montgomery County Public Schools superintendent, is appearing before the Educational and Culture and Public Safety committees Wednesday to discuss Montgomery County schools’ memorandum of understanding with Montgomery County police. The two committees are meeting together for this briefing. Police Chief Marcus Jones will also brief the council on the plan.

Zakiya Sankara-Jabar, a Silver Spring resident and parent of two MCPS students, said that she was concerned about the reinstatement of police in schools.

“I want MCPS to make sure that we’re living up to the things that we’re writing on our websites” when it comes to equity, Sankara-Jabar said. Although she said there are “constant fights” in the schools, she didn’t believe police in schools was the answer. Instead she urged the board to continue with the push to provide mental health supports “to support the social and emotional health of children.”

Parent Tiffany Kelly told the board that the past two years took a toll on her seventh-grade son and left him suffering from depression and anxiety.

When school started this year, he entered “defiant and not trusting any of his educators,” she said. But during the course of this year, she said the team of teachers and counselors worked hard to help her son.

“It has turned him back into an engaged and accomplished student,” Kelly said.

However, Kelly said, her son can’t walk past a police car without being fearful. For that reason, she told the board, she does not want to see police back inside school buildings.

Using the term SRO, for school resource officer, Kelly said, “We need to say SROs aren’t safe for all students. They just aren’t.” She asked the board to keep them out of school business.

The meeting before the Education and Culture Committee and the Public Safety Committee on Wednesday will include a discussion of the future of role of community engagement officers in schools.

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Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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