School Safety Message from Dr. Martirano
March 28th, 2018
At the end of last week, the Howard County Police Department (HCPD) announced on social media that they would be formalizing a long-standing effort of expanding police visits to schools. While I have personally received a great deal of positive feedback supporting this effort, I have also heard some concerns from the community about increased police presence in our school buildings and the role of School Resource Officers (SRO) and patrol officers. I want to help remove the impression that a police presence represents a threat or is in response to an emergency.
The efforts of police officers to visit schools as part of their regular responsibilities is something that has been occurring for approximately 30 years and something even Police Chief Gary Gardner did as a patrol officer in the late 1980s. Thursday’s announcement by the HCPD seeks to formalize a process of police officers better understanding the school communities they serve and build relationships with our school leaders. There are many benefits to this program:
- Just as our partnership with Howard County Fire and Rescue serves to help our children feel safe and understand the role that firefighters play in a community, the presence of police officers as mentors in our buildings make them a critical part of the safety of that environment.
- School administrators, staff, students and community members get to know the officers that are serving the school’s community.
- Officers become familiar with the school’s floor plan in preparation for responding to an emergency.
- There is not a budgetary impact on HCPSS.
I have encouraged police Chief Gardner to work with school administrators to establish times that students, staff, and members of the community may have opportunities to get to personally know the officers making visits. Over the next few days, you will hear more from your Principal.
Over the past few days, several students and community members have expressed concerns about the relationship between our schools and police and it’s important to address those to help alleviate these concerns.
- Officers do not have the authority to enact disciplinary measures on students. The processes around officer response remain the same as they have always been – to respond to a perceived or active threat.
- Officers are not involved in identifying students who may be undocumented citizens.
- Officers will not be permitted in schools if they purposely adopt an intimidating or threatening presence. If students or parents feel there has been an incident of misconduct, they should feel free to contact the school principal or Office of Safety and Security.
Our SROs have become a part of the school family in our high schools and some middle schools. The overwhelming majority of feedback that I receive from students and school staff is that the presence of SROs has made a positive impact. I am very sensitive to the fact that some members of our community, especially in our communities of color, may have concerns based on what they have witnessed in schools in other parts of the country. In Howard County, we have made great strides to strengthen law enforcement’s relationship with schools, including integrating the work being done by Dr. Kevin Gilbert, our Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, to provide trainings for SROs around restorative practices, cultural proficiency, and bias.
This particular initiative is only a piece of the much larger safety puzzle.
- The County Executive announced a commitment to provide funds to repair and replace doors at high schools and double the number of School Resource Officers assigned to middle schools.
- We are reviewing system policies and procedures related to safety including possible changes to staff training to include active shooter response and tactics for staff intervention with student altercations.
- The Emergency Operations Plan for schools is being updated to make it streamlined and easier to use during an emergency.
- Our proposed operating budget adds nurses and social workers to increase mental health supports.
- We have begun the process of installing the buzzer systems found in our elementary and middle schools into each of our high schools.
Creating a safe and welcoming learning environment requires the efforts of everybody – strong leadership from our school administrators and staff, comprehensive and effective student supports, proper professional learning around diversity and restorative practices, and strong partnerships with our families and community partners.
As Superintendent, it is my job to oversee the safety and wellbeing of every student and staff member. We will continue to address threats in a transparent manner while ensuring the confidentiality of those involved. We will also continue to partner with the community on ways through which we can provide better supports for our families and secure our schools. More information about our efforts can be found on our safety website and I encourage you to continue to stay in touch with your questions and concerns.
Thank you for collaborating with me to keep our schools safe.
Michael J. Martirano
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