‘Safe spaces’: Montgomery Co. officials talk school safety after Texas shooting

After last week’s mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, a group of police, school and governmental leaders in Montgomery County, Maryland, held a briefing to outline the steps the county has in place to prevent such an incident.

“It is absolutely times like now in which we must come together and address the fear and anxiety that our community rightfully have felt,” Superintendent Monifa McKnight said during the online briefing. “Our schools here in Montgomery County are safe spaces for our students, and I believe that we do have good systems and practices in place.”

McKnight and the county’s police chief, Marcus Jones, each praised the coordination and ongoing communication between the school and police.

“It is absolutely our practice that all exterior doors are locked during the instructional day, and I have asked that this be reinforced with all school leaders,” McKnight said. She added that nearly all schools have security vestibules, meaning that anyone coming into a school has to be “buzzed in through a locked door.”



At schools that don’t have the vestibules, she said, “there is still a locked door that a staff member must open for any visitor who is coming into our building.”

Both McKnight and Jones made a point of emphasizing that police are taught to move immediately to preserve life in any active shooter situation, including in a school.

“Our police policy here in Montgomery County is that in a situation involving an active shooter, it is the first responding officer who would immediately move to preserve life,” McKnight said.

Jones wouldn’t comment on the police response in Uvalde, where the Police Department’s story has changed virtually daily: “I don’t want to necessarily comment on the actions of [the police] because there’s much more to be found,” the chief said.

He did say, however, that in Montgomery County, beginning at the training academy, “All officers know … that they are to go in and to basically to destabilize that threat.”

The officials added that information from the public about potential threats that they hear — either verbally or online — is a critical part of the process of keeping kids safe.

“I emphasize this point because this depends on the commitment of the community,” McKnight said. “That means our students, our families, our parents, aunts, uncles, cousins … everybody who is a part of this community.”

And she shared the Maryland Safe Tip Line, 1-833-MD-BESAFE. County Council President Gabe Albornoz also recited the county’s crisis hotline number, 240-777-4000.

‘We lose it at the end’

County Executive Marc Elrich wasn’t as circumspect as Jones: “We know there are some serious problems with how the police responded in Uvalde,” Elrich said, “and it’s good to know that that’s not the way we work.”

He added, “If you look at incidents [in the county] where officers had to put their lives in jeopardy to save other people, we’ve seen officers do that.”

Elrich said the Maryland Center for School Safety found that all 209 public schools in Montgomery County have adequate law enforcement coverage — one of only four counties in the state so rated – and have 252 officers trained to deal with school safety, the most in the state.

But more needs to be done, he said, and gun control is a key.

“It’s really alarming that people are trying to blame it on movies or video games and social media,” Elrich said. “When we lose a student to violence and guns, at the end of the day, we lost that battle no matter where it started. We lose it at the end.”

Trailers?

The question of security at portable classrooms – the hundreds of trailers that house Montgomery County students outside the main doors and security vestibules of main buildings – was posed to McKnight, who said, “We’ve incorporated that into our training, specifically around safety and security.”

Ed Clarke, the head of security for Montgomery County Public Schools, added that “we consider those portable learning environments to be an extension of the school campus,” and that trailer security is “part of our robust emergency drill preparedness.”

He added that there are communication devices in the trailers, “so in the event of a critical emergency, we can have immediate communication certainly to 911, but more importantly to the school administration there.”

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2012 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He went to George Washington University as an undergraduate and is regularly surprised at the changes to the city since that faraway time.

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