2019 | Schools

MCPS Creating Policy To Screen for Violent Students

Early intervention protocols required by new state Safe to Learn Act

share this

The Montgomery County Board of Education's Policy Management Committee meets Monday afternoon.

Caitlynn Peetz

The Montgomery school system is drafting a policy aimed at identifying students who could pose a safety threat.

Early intervention programs would be established to focus on getting appropriate help for students who are at risk for violent behavior, including those who are bullied, according to the 16-page policy.

“We want to look and see what’s going on and what we can we do to stop an individual from going down a path of violence,” said Christina Conolly, director of psychological services. “The goal is intervention, not just saying we’re going to suspend those kids.”

The policy would bring the school system into compliance with the Maryland Safe to Learn Act, signed into law by Gov. Larry Hogan in April 2018, following a mass shooting at a Florida high school that left 17 dead.

Behavior threat assessment teams will be formed at each school, including administrators, law enforcement and staff members trained in working with non-English language speakers and students with special needs and staff with experience responding to mental health crises.

Team members will attend a two-day training about how to react to threats based on where they fall in a “pathway to violence” scale that measures a person’s threat level. Threat levels range from low, with little intervention, to imminent threats which would require calling police and instituting a lockdown.

Most reports won’t be classified as imminent threats, Conolly said, but all will be assessed and “triaged” to determine what support a student needs. Annual reports on the number of behavioral threat assessments would be provided to the school board.

A price for conducting the training and maintaining the behavior threat assessment teams was not disclosed, but school system Chief Safety Officer Ed Clarke said the school system is receiving grant money from the state.

The school system also will appoint Clarke as a liaison between schools and local law enforcement agencies, identify a mental health services coordinator, develop a plan to address physical, social and psychological well-being of students and develop an incident management system for reporting security instances on school property or at school events.

The three members of the school board’s policy management committee present Monday highlighted the importance of reacting quickly and seriously to threats, especially those made on social media that are often overlooked as non-substantive.

“I would hate to think we would have to hear someone has a gun or is making a bomb or something before acknowledging there could be a problem,” District 2 member Rebecca Smondrowski said.

Clarke assured board members staff and county police respond appropriately to all threat allegations, and police have gone to a child’s house in the middle of the night to interview them if they thought there was a serious risk.

“Social media has been a huge game-changer,” he said. “Partnerships with local law enforcement are critical, and we all respond quickly to address issues.”

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