2022 | Schools

Magruder students say shooting ‘changed us,’ urge more mental health services

‘Does it require a classmate almost dying in order to get support,’ student asks

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Magruder High School students listen to MCPS employees talk about mental health services during a meeting on Thursday in Rockville.

Caitlynn Peetz

Students who were at Col. Zadok Magruder High School in January when a classmate was shot in the bathroom said on Thursday that the school district is not doing enough for their mental health, a longstanding problem compounded by the trauma of the shooting.

In the days following the shooting, which left a 15-year-old in critical condition, Montgomery County Public Schools sent an influx of mental health professionals to the school, including counselors, psychologists and therapy dogs. Police presence was also ramped up.

The school operated on a half-day schedule on its first day back after the incident. Students who had spent more than five hours in lockdown were allowed to stay home if they weren’t ready to go back to school that day.

But as time has passed, so, too, has the urgency to support the students affected, many said during a school board meeting on Thursday.

“There is no doubt that the shooting at Magruder changed us — us as a county, not just Magruder. This entire school year has changed us,” said student Himanshu Gediya, also highlighting other violent incidents at schools across the county. “As a result, our students are left in the dark with little to no support after seeing these events unfold right before their eyes.”

The students who spoke said their pleas for mental health resources — after the shooting and for years prior — have been ignored. And, some called what was offered in the days following “insignificant, unengaging and repetitive.”

“In the younger generations, being the most diagnosed generation for depression and anxiety, does it require a classmate almost dying in order to get support from the adults in our lives?” said Grace Simonson, a senior. “… No matter what you claim to be doing behind the scenes, if the students do not feel the actual benefit of your work, then what is it all for?”

Elena Davisson, a junior, said she wasn’t at school that day, but recalled getting text messages from her friends saying “I love you” and that a shooter was in the school.

She said what the students want isn’t complicated: a long-term, proactive approach to dealing with students’ mental health needs.

“Our expectations are not that high. We are not asking for an unlimited supply of social workers or psychologists,” she said. “… We are simply asking for a platform of reassurance for our mental health, which we feel hasn’t been given to us. We are simply asking for an investment in our mental health and social workers. By investing, I mean long-term investments, not temporary ones.”

Dan Tran, another Magruder student, added that students aren’t aware of what resources MCPS has for them. He asked for MCPS to not rely on students to seek help, but to instead better advertise what resources are available for students and help to proactively connect them.

In response to the students’ testimony, school board members asked MCPS to organize a town hall meeting for students to share their feelings and ideas, and to create a student group to create a plan to better communicate what the district offers.

Many MCPS employees, including Interim Superintendent Monifa McKnight and Magruder Principal Leroy Evans, praised the students for speaking out.

Everett Davis, MCPS’ associate superintendent of the Office of Student and Family Support and Engagement, and Director of Psychological Services Christina Conolly-Chester outlined the resources still available for Magruder students, including in-person and online therapy sessions. MCPS employees said the district has also recently interviewed and made offers to 15 additional school psychologists, and is working to implement clubs called “Our Minds Matter” that aim to destigmatize mental health and illness. The club is available in 17 high schools, Conolly-Chester said, and is being piloted in two middle schools.

But school board member Lynne Harris said she is frustrated that students have had to keep testifying at meetings about the same problems.

“They’re telling us what they need, and when they come back to say the same things … then this is a pervasive problem we have not yet addressed,” Harris said. “I don’t want these students to just be paying it forward. They really shouldn’t be waiting to see the needs of themselves and their peers being met.”

On Wednesday, Evans wrote in a message to community members that a student brought a BB gun to school that day. The gun was not loaded and was confiscated without incident.

But school district leaders acknowledged that the incident might add to the anxiety of students still coping with January’s shooting.

On Wednesday, MCPS spokesman Chris Cram said families can reach out to “any trusted adult at the school” if they need help.

He said psychologists, counselors and county agencies are available. Parents can also call the school’s office and ask for help, he said.

“There’s the ongoing knowledge that this was a traumatic event, and the support goes beyond the day of and the day after,” Cram said on Wednesday. “Anyone who knows anything about trauma knows it manifests itself in a variety of ways at any time. So, if anybody needs anything at all, all they need to do is reach out to a trusted adult.”

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com