After a number of serious safety incidents at Montgomery County Public Schools this past year, students are proposing the school district take a new approach to school safety through measures such as enhancing safety-related communications with students, a pilot ID program at high schools and addressing student drug use on campus.
The suggestions stem from a resolution – the “Safe Schools Resolution” – introduced by Sami Saeed, the student member of the Board of Education senior at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville.
Saeed introduced the resolution to the school board on Oct. 26 and the board will vote on it at the Nov. 9 business meeting. The “Safe Schools Resolution” is Saeed’s first resolution to bring to the board
The resolution was created using the the feedback of students Saeed spoke with, the results of a survey with responses from nearly 400 students, as well as his own experiences.
“I thought of this possible resolution, actually, at the end of last [school year], even before I was elected,” he said. Saeed was elected into the position by his peers in April.
Saeed referenced an incident in which a former student at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville had been arrested after they allegedly brought a handgun to the school in January. He said that the student had been walking around the building at the same time he was.
“That’s when it really hit me, from a personal experience, that this is a really big issue,” he told board members at the October meeting. Watch Saeed present his resolution in his Instagram post.
Saeed told MoCo360 after that incident, he decided he would act on the issue if he continued to see the trend of increased safety and security incidents. Within the first two months since the start of school and his term as SMOB, Saeed saw numerous bomb threats sent to schools, the arrest of a student with a loaded handgun at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, hate-based graffiti and the breakout of fights.
Within the “Safe Schools Resolution,” Saeed proposes a handful of actions and policies the school system can implement to improve security in schools and increase student safety. These solutions include improved vetting and training of security staff, guidelines for community communication after a safety incident, training for student reporting and the creation of a Student Safety Advisory Committee.
The resolution also asks the superintendent to modify the current comprehensive safety and security plan to ensure that it includes, the expansion of a student ID pilot at all high schools, development of strategies to monitor school restrooms, address and reduce substance use in schools and implement additional security technologies.
In a survey Saeed conducted, he asked students about the various safety measures he planned to propose and whether it would be necessary and/or beneficial.
The results of the survey found:
- 60% favored ID checking at high schools
- 82% believe security guard training would be beneficial
- 95% thought more efficient communication was needed
- 72% thought additional security technology would be beneficial
- 68% believe a Student Safety Advisory Group would be beneficial
Additionally, he asked students about their feelings around their own safety at school. Students responded as such:
- 5.4% “always” feel safe
- 61% feel safe “most of the time”
- 24% “sometimes” feel safe
- 5.7% “rarely” feel safe
- 2.8% “never” feel safe.
Saeed’s survey also asked students if they think their peers feel safe in school. The results showed:
- 3.9% said “always”
- 50% said “most of the time”
- 40% said “sometimes”
- 5.2% said “rarely”
- 1.8% said “never”
At the Oct. 26 meeting, Sam Ross, a junior at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, presented testimony to the school board urging their support for Saeed’s school safety resolution. Ross told board members that one of the most important changes within the resolution is plans for faster communication with students and parents during emergencies.
“In my freshman year, I saw someone get stabbed during my yoga class, I had to be the one to tell everyone I knew that there wasn’t a shooter in the school or a robbery across the street, but that a single person was targeted and the assailant fled the scene,” she said.
“On Monday, my friends were in school when a student was arrested for possessing a loaded gun, they were not notified until later that night,” Ross said in reference to the student arrest at Walter Johnson High School on Oct. 23. “This is the wrong position to be putting students, staff and parents in during an emergency.”
During Saeed’s presentation of the resolution, he highlighted some responses from students he surveyed who echoed Ross’s sentiment on MCPS communications.
One comment said, “…it’s impossible for students to reach out about their urgent safety needs,” and another said, “Overall communication needs to be improved.”
Another MCPS student, Nico D’Orazio, a senior at Thomas S. Wootton High School in Rockville, testified at the Oct.26 school board meeting and recalled an experience in which two students from a different school entered the building.
“I still think about how these students must have entered my school. It certainly wouldn’t be too difficult,” he said. “After all, so long as you look like a student, you can be buzzed into the front office and enter the building. No questions asked. Having seen the increasing school safety incidents across the county, I wonder if Wootton will be the next on the news.”