Safety concerns generate community discussion at Montgomery County’s Kennedy High School

Concerns about safety and reports of drug use on campus at Kennedy High School in Montgomery County caused the Parent Teacher Student Association to call for a community meeting to discuss ways the school system and county officials can do more to keep the Maryland school safe.

Last month, Kennedy English teacher David Gebler and PTSA Vice President Ricky Ribeiro testified before the school board. This week, they expressed lingering concerns.

Ribeiro said he was alarmed last year when his son and his nephew, both of whom attended Kennedy, told him, “Kids were smoking Percocets in the bathroom.”

“I didn’t even know what that was,” Ribeiro said.

That same year, a Kennedy student died of an overdose off campus. Ribeiro said he’s been told by some parents that their kids were introduced to drugs at Kennedy.

“There are a lot of cracks in the system,” Ribeiro said.

Students continue to report problems, and some said they avoid the bathrooms altogether because they don’t feel safe, Gebler said.

“The kids often just say that they want the drugs gone,” he said, adding that he was speaking up out his own frustration.

When he testified before the Board of Education, Gebler said Kennedy is not alone in dealing with issues related to drugs and security.

“The kids at Kennedy are amazing, and they deserve better,” Gebler said.

Along with issues related to drug use and suspected drug transactions, there have been issues related to physical safety. Last month, someone carrying a knife trespassed on campus, causing the school to issue a “shelter-in-place.” That incident happened on the same day Montgomery County police held a news conference announcing the arrest of a student who was charged with a threat of mass violence at Wootton High School.

Ribeiro said he wants to see the same kind of response to security issues at Kennedy that he has seen at other schools, such as Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, where a community meeting was held after incidents, including a carjacking allegedly involving BCC students, were reported.

Ribeiro said he wants a frank discussion.

“There’s a lot that happens in schools that is whispered or talked about in private but not said out loud,” he said. “I want this conversation to happen out loud.”

Asked about the issues at Kennedy, Christopher Cram, spokesman for Montgomery County Public Schools, wrote in an email, “Security matters are of significant importance and despite all that we do with our security vestibules and our Visitor Management System and the requirements for all exterior doors to be locked, it is unfortunate when a student may open a door to a stranger. This endangers everyone and they know better. One important action is increased vigilance in monitoring doors and bathrooms, which school leaders are doing now as a result of reports.”

Ribeiro also said tackling the issues isn’t up to just Kennedy High School or the Board of Education. He invited county officials to the meeting, as well.

“I’m under no illusion that this one conversation is going to change things, but I hope it’s the start of, you know, our school system and our police department and our county council putting their heads together.”

The meeting was scheduled at Kennedy’s school cafeteria at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

“We need to start listening to the kids and we need to make the school safe. Because they deserve it,” Ribeiro said.

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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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