The Board of Education Headquarters, where all board meetings take place, is located at Carver Education Services Center on Hungerford Drive in Rockville. Credit: Annabelle Gordon

In response to a recent alarming flurry of student drug overdoses and antisemitic acts, Montgomery County Public Schools is leaning on its community partners to improve student safety and support.

On Monday, community leaders from Montgomery Goes Purple and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington (JCRC) briefed members of the school board on recent initiatives geared toward combatting drug use and hate-based acts in the district.

The Communication and Stakeholder Engagement Committee meeting was held in person and broadcast virtually on the MCPS website.

More fentanyl forums planned

Montgomery Goes Purple chairperson Laura Mitchell said her organization was originally founded to increase community education on Overdose Awareness Day in August. But given the recent spike in fentanyl-related overdoses and deaths, the team is taking “a more year-round approach” to its  advocacy and focusing more on sharing substance use prevention resources.

“Let’s save [lives] instead of commemorating them,” Mitchell said. “My son has lost almost every single one of his childhood friends. I’ve been to too many funerals—I don’t want to go to another one.”


Over 1,500 people attended the Family Forum on Fentanyl last month to receive free training on administering Narcan—which can reverse the effects of an overdose—and participate in a Q&A with a panel of experts.

Many students at the forum expressed safety concerns about drug use in their school bathrooms, Mitchell recalled—an issue MCPS has been addressing more directly as “bathroom culture” has become a heightened concern among families.

In a letter to the community published Tuesday, MCPS announced that school staff will be performing bathroom checks with increased frequency, and that some schools may limit access to specific bathrooms during “transition periods and more unstructured times” to discourage their misuse.


Based on personal experiences, multiple students and family members have suggested that policies limiting bathroom access harm students more than they help, by causing confusion and crowding.

“These measures, along with additional support from the Department of Systemwide Safety and Emergency, are being implemented to enhance the level of security students feel,” the letter stated.

A second fentanyl forum will be held at Northwood High School from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. on Feb. 25, Mitchell told the school board. This time, breakout sessions for caregivers will be held simultaneously in English and Spanish.


She said similar forums are being planned for the Gaithersburg area and in the east county.

Increased cultural competency training

The JCRC is also ramping up its work with MCPS, according to Director of Education, Programs and Services Sara Winkelman. She works closely with central office staff to “respond in real time” when incidents like antisemitic flyers or graffiti are reported, including coordinating the messaging used in MCPS letters to the community.


Winkelman said the JCRC offers proactive programs created to combat antisemitism, but the recent barrage of hateful acts has been difficult to keep up with.

“The reality is with all the increased hate and antisemitism, it’s been really hard for our families in MCPS,” she said.

She highlighted JCRC’s Student-to-Student program, which trains local Jewish high school juniors and seniors to give public school presentations about how they personally experience being Jewish. She described it as an anti-bias, anti-bigotry, cultural competency program and said students are trained to share “the joys of Judaism” instead of focusing on the Holocaust. Over 95 students have given presentations, she said.


The JCRC also brings Holocaust survivors and their descendants into schools to narrate their family’s experiences for students. Winkelman told MoCo360 she’s always amazed by the level of engagement among students when a survivor speaks. “You can hear a pin drop,” she said.

Winkelman said the JCRC and MCPS have planned several community town halls in March where Jewish families will have the opportunity to ask questions and speak directly with Superintendent Monifa McKnight—something Winkelman described as an exciting opportunity and a “very effective tool” to help Jewish families feel supported by their school district.