This article was updated at 7:07 p.m. to clarify the status of the student victim’s health.
Montgomery County Public Schools officials met with community members Wednesday to address the school system’s missteps the day of a January shooting at Derwood’s Col. Zadok Magruder High School that left one student critically injured.
While parents in attendance were encouraged to finally receive a direct apology from MCPS, many said they believe more still needs to be done in order to restore community trust.
“I think this was a really important step,” said parent Kim Glassman, MCCPTA coordinator for the Magruder cluster. “I’m really glad they [said], ‘Here are the areas we could have done things differently, and we apologize for our missteps and miscommunication.’”
Steven Alston Jr., who was 17 years old on the day he shot his 15-year-old classmate, pleaded guilty to first-degree attempted murder in November. Several Magruder parents said they suspect this plea may have prompted MCPS to schedule Wednesday’s community meeting. After extensive medical care and multiple surgeries, the victim has since resumed attending classes but is far from fully recovered.
The meeting was held in the auditorium at Magruder from 6 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday. A Zoom link was provided as an option for parents to join virtually. MCPS spokesperson Chris Cram told Bethesda Beat on Tuesday that the meeting would not be open to the public or press. Attendance was strictly limited to the Magruder school community.
Deputy Superintendent Patrick Murphy started the meeting with a series of open apologies, according to Magruder parent Cynthia Simonson. She said he first acknowledged how much time had elapsed since the incident, saying, “Sorry this has taken so long to come together.”
Simonson said he apologized for MCPS’s miscommunication with parents both during and after the events of Jan. 21 and expressed remorse for the lengthy delay in parent/student reunification the day of the shooting.
MCPS head of security Ed Clarke announced that the after-action report released by MCPS in May would be updated to include an amendment with new information, but he did not give any indication of when the amended report would be released, according to several attendees.
MCPS corrected two key pieces of miscommunication during the meeting, according to attendees. The first correction referenced the initial text message sent by MCPS to parents at 1:28 p.m. on the day of the shooting, which stated “no students or staff are in imminent danger,” according to Jeremy Sausser, whose daughter was in the classroom where the shooter was arrested.
“Unfortunately, that was untrue,” Sausser said. He said Murphy acknowledged that the shooter’s whereabouts were still unknown at the time the text was sent.
Sausser lost contact with his daughter for over two hours during the school lockdown and said he still has many questions about how MCPS handled the emergency. He said he raised several concerns during the meeting, including a need for better emergency communication, quicker response time and clearer protocols for all staff.
The second correction made by MCPS referred to an email sent by Murphy to approximately 25 families whose children were in the classroom with the shooter that day, attendees said. The email stated that all staff “followed the prescribed lockdown procedures” on the day of the shooting, according to Simonson. In actuality, she said, one classroom in particular did not follow those procedures. Murphy acknowledged the discrepancy and apologized to families for the misinformation, she said.
Clarke told attendees the county’s entire school system has undergone heavy training since January to ensure lockdown procedures are uniformly understood, Glassman said. She said Clarke also mentioned a “centralized emergency communication system” MCPS has in place to ensure parents receive regular, timely communication in the event of an emergency.
One key moment that moved parents in attendance was when the victim’s mother, Karen Thomas, took the microphone to address MCPS’s lack of communication with her family following the tragedy.
Glassman said Thomas stated she had not heard from the central office and no one from MCPS ever reached out to check on her son who was shot.
Glassman said an MCPS representative apologized to Thomas and said they hoped to regain her trust.
Parents are left with many questions about the day of the shooting, but several said they are hopeful Wednesday’s meeting will be the start of further engagement between MCPS and the Magruder community.
“I feel like this is really just the beginning, because there’s still so many concerns we have,” Sausser said.