School safety update shows jump in arrests in Montgomery County

Although the number of times Montgomery County Public School administrators have called police to respond to incidents is down this year — 1,329 calls so far, compared to 2,814 for all of last school year — the number of arrests has increased.

Calls for service included requests for help from fire and emergency services for medical issues, along with law enforcement related calls.

According to data presented to county council committees on public safety and education, the number of arrests of students in schools has gone up: from three in the 2021-2022 school year to 13 this year.

There has also been a dramatic jump in the number of hate and bias incidents: from 65 for all of last year to 100 so far this year, with 42 of those recorded in February alone.

At Monday’s hearing, school and police officials answered questions regarding the incidents and talked about the school system’s emphasis on restorative justice rather than suspensions and expulsions.

Most of the calls 1,329 calls for service were from high schools and middle schools, with 317 calls made from officials at elementary schools.

Montgomery County Public School officials briefed county council committees on incidents that resulted in calls to police so far this school year. (Courtesy Montgomery County Council)

Concern about safety inside public schools has generated questions about the role of CEOs, or community engagement officers, who are police assigned to provide law enforcement coverage to school clusters under state law. However, under a memorandum of understanding between the school system and police, are not stationed within school buildings.

Noting concern among parents about school safety, Council member Gabe Albornoz asked about school security staffing levels and requested more data on how often students turn to security staff with their concerns.

Albornoz, who referred to his background as a former youth development worker, said that in the past, when young people would report problems of bullying, extortion or threats from gangs, “very often, students in those very serious circumstances would often speak to the SRO in their school, who they felt very comfortable.”

SROs were the school resource officers assigned to work inside school buildings. That program was eliminated in 2021 in favor of the new CEO model.

During Monday’s meeting, Council member Will Jawando asked for a breakdown of arrest data.

“I do not see it broken down on race and ethnicity or students with a disability,” Jawando said.

Jawando said that was important to know because, “One of the things that precipitated this debate” over the role of police in schools was “the disparity in arrest data in who was arrested” at schools.

Police officials said they would get that data to council members.

School data shows some disparity in suspension rates by gender. Boys make up 67% of those student who were suspended, while 33% of students suspended are girls. Black and Hispanic students are also suspended at higher rates than their white and Asian American counterparts, according to the same data.

This school year, there are nine staffers responsible for instituting the restorative justice model for student discipline within schools. According to school data, 103 schools have received “direct service” from restorative justice specialists, with the bulk of that taking the form of consulting and helping train staff.

In referring to the restorative justice approach to student discipline, Associate Superintendent Damon Monteleone told council members, “Ultimately, the goal is not to just issue discipline and remove the student from the learning environment. That doesn’t work.”

You can see data presented during the council hearing at the Montgomery County website.

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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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