Families of students at North Bethesda Middle School are raising concerns after an “unknown student” was apprehended on campus last week – the second time such an incident has been reported this semester.
Assistant School Administrator Daniel Werbeck told parents of the latest intrusion in an email that was sent at 2:52 p.m. Dec. 20 and obtained by Bethesda Beat.
“I am writing to inform you that an unknown student was on campus today,” Werbeck wrote. “When we discovered the student was on campus, we contacted Montgomery County police who are currently here on campus investigating the incident. They may be on-scene through dismissal, but the situation is under control and we will dismiss as normal.”
Several parents replied to the email expressing frustration with the security breach and calling for the school to take action to prevent future incidents.
“We’ve been lucky so far that these kids are not active shooters, but this is very disturbing,” one parent wrote in a reply-all. “And clearly, there is a security issue at play here.”
Another parent wrote, “I agree 100 percent … it is absolutely unacceptable and I’d also like to know what is being done to prevent this from happening again.”
On the morning of Sept. 26, an unarmed student entered campus and made verbal threats to students, according to an email sent to parents by Principal AnneMarie Smith and later obtained by Bethesda Beat.
“When confronted,” the email states, “the student became disruptive and was non-compliant. As a result, we called Montgomery County Police for assistance. Rumors have circulated that there was a weapon in the school. There were no weapons in the school and the situation has been resolved.”
Smith’s email added, “We do understand that the intruder made verbal threats, but no student was harmed at NBMS.”
When reached for comment, Montgomery County Police could not confirm whether arrests had been made in either occasion.
The only news outlet to report on the September incident was The Pitch, neighboring Walter Johnson High School’s student publication.
Craig Hillman, president of the school’s Parent Teacher Student Association, told Bethesda Beat that the school principal and security team briefed him on the incident. He said he was told students’ rampant use of social media is largely to blame for the incident. He said students are urging each other to sneak into other schools via social media challenges.
Hillman shared what he learned from the principal with families on Dec. 20 via an email obtained by Bethesda Beat.
“Stupid ideas travel extremely fast on social media,” he wrote. “The presence of these uninvited visitors, which is occurring around the county, can unfortunately be somewhat traced back to students’ use of social media.”
He encouraged parents to be mindful about their children’s use of social media and to tell their child “no” if asked about bringing a friend to school.
Hillman said the principal is working with the school security team to determine next steps, which could include requiring students to carry school IDs at all times. Although he pointed out that most active school shooters are students or adults from within the same school, so requiring IDs might not decrease the likelihood of future occurrences.
He told Bethesda Beat that it’s important for parents and schools to disincentivize students from participating in these kinds of challenges, but otherwise said he has “no other safety concerns” arising from the incident.
Montgomery County Public Schools’ communications director Jessica Baxter told Bethesda Beat in an email that both incidents were unrelated and involved school-age students who had an existing connection with a student at NBMS.
“Administrators from the school are in discussions with the Department of Systemwide Safety and Emergency Management about the possibility of introducing ID lanyards,” Baxter wrote, adding, “This isn’t a perfect system when you consider implementation — i.e. students leaving IDs at home or losing them.”
She told Bethesda Beat that the school and its safety team will hold a meeting with the school PTSA on this topic after the new year. The meeting is not yet scheduled.