Updated: May 18, 2022
At 10 a.m. this morning, my alma mater, Montgomery Blair High School, went into lockdown after one student was stabbed by another student in the school’s Colesville-side parking lot, according to local news sources. The victim was taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, and the suspect is in custody. My thoughts are with the victim and their family, and all the students and staff impacted by this traumatizing event.
Like many parents, my first alert came when I received notifications that my children, who attend nearby preschool and elementary schools, were sheltering in place. This is not an update any of us want to get. It’s not an update any of us should have to get.
We must do better to protect our young people.
Some parents may instinctively wonder if the solution is to increase the policing of our students. I understand that emotional reaction. However, an avalanche of national and local research efforts have been unable to find evidence that police in schools, as opposed to readily available to respond to a call, increases school safety. In contrast, we have significant evidence that it has a detrimental impact on historically marginalized students, such as students of color and children with disabilities.
Violence continues in policed schools because police do not address root causes. That has never been their primary purpose. Rather, they respond when an incident occurs, as they did today. And in the most tragic cases, they respond in a manner more appropriate to a dangerous adult than a child in need, as we saw with the kindergartener who wandered away from East Silver Spring Elementary School.
We will not see a change in youth violence prevention until we invest adequately in their health and social-emotional well-being. Violence amongst our students is a symptom of our failure to provide enough support staff to serve their mental and behavioral health needs.
School counselors, nurses, and psychologists are often the first to respond when children are sick, stressed, or traumatized. Schools with robust mental health services see improved attendance rates, better academic achievement, and higher graduation rates as well as lower rates of suspension, expulsion, and other disciplinary incidents.
We’ve known for months that students would be returning to schools with a significant increase in mental health issues including depression and suicidality. We’ve known that many have experienced trauma, loss, isolation, and severe economic hardship over the last two years.
In January, Montgomery County’s Reimagining Public Safety Task Force released the research-based recommendation that we “eliminate the School Resource Officer (SRO) program and replace SROs in schools with counselors.” Students, parents, and teachers echoed the same demand at both the local and state levels, many citing the especially urgent need for intervention this year.
Instead, the county simply shifted police from inside our schools to just outside, changed their names from School Resource Officers to Community Engagement Officers, and failed to address the critical demand to invest quickly and adequately in support staff.
A plan announced by the county in late August to use federal American Rescue Plan funds to hire 50 social workers for our 208 MCPS schools has not materialized, and school staff already stretched thin are left to try to fill the need.
Today’s tragic event is yet another clear sign that it’s time to get serious about addressing the health and well-being of our students. We need to stop playing games with the semantics of a policing system that we already know harms some students and does not hold the key to safety for the others, and instead invest deeply in what we know works: staff trained specifically in supporting our children’s mental health and social-emotional needs.