2022 | Schools

MCPS will conduct ‘comprehensive review’ of school safety following Magruder shooting

District has looked into metal detectors before

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MCPS Interim Superintendent Monifa McKnight speaks during a press conference on Monday afternoon in Gaithersburg.

Caitlynn Peetz

School district and county leaders say they are re-examining “every aspect” of school safety — including the possible installation of metal detectors and bringing police back into schools — following a shooting at a high school that left one student critically injured.

During a press conference on Monday afternoon, Interim Superintendent Monifa McKnight said the district will conduct a “pretty comprehensive review of all safety and security measures in our schools” over the next few months after Friday’s shooting at Col. Zadok Magruder High School.

She said MCPS will also reevaluate its relationship with police, which was changed prior to the start of the school year to remove officers from buildings and instead assign them to geographic areas around schools. The change came at the direction of County Executive Marc Elrich.

In the meantime, McKnight said, police will be present in all of its high schools for at least the next week.

“We said from the very beginning that a program is only one part of this, and that we will commit to evaluating our community engagement officer program,” McKnight said. “Now, we had an incident that occurred that has never occurred in the history [of the school district]. And so it is incumbent upon us to make sure we evaluate that incident and … determine how it will apply to adjustments that need to be made in our program.”

But, she added, reinstituting the school resource officer program in the same way as before isn’t reasonable because it had problems.

“I don’t want to see any particular program come back that we have learned … there are dynamics that don’t work and that’s what we learned from the SRO program,” McKnight said. “Yes, there were positives to that program. There were also negatives to the program. And, so, it’s more about what … type of environment that we want to create in our schools that creates a safe one, and one that’s built on the premise of relationship building.”

Elrich in March announced there would not be SROs in MCPS high schools when classes returned from summer break. His alternate concept, which was implemented, was to instead have those officers assigned to specific school areas and respond to incidents as needed.

The change came amid national calls for racial justice following the high profile deaths of Black men at the hands of police. Local data also showed — in line with national statistics — that Black students and students in special education programs were more likely to be arrested than their peers.

The move was met with mixed reviews from some community members. Some applauded the removal of police from schools, while others felt the change didn’t go far enough to separate students from officers.

Others criticized the county, saying it puts students and employees at greater risk by increasing police response time when there’s an incident. Critics also believe having SROs on campus might deter some students from acting out at all. MCPS principals have said they support having SROs.

During a press conference on Monday afternoon, Police Chief Marcus Jones said it took about seven minutes for the community engagement officer — the first police officer to arrive — to get to Magruder from a nearby elementary school.

Asked on Monday if he felt the decision to remove SROs was made too quickly, Elrich said: “We don’t know what the effect of an SRO would have been or would not have been in this particular case, which is why we’re talking about it and trying to understand what happened, what you would do differently and how we might modify what we’re doing.”

Earlier on Monday, County Council President Gabe Albornoz said Friday’s incident “warrants a conversation about all security measures, including whether or not we should be bringing back or in some form or fashion the school resource officer program that was phased out for this new system that we are in right now.”

MCPS is required by state law to review the incident and response at Magruder High, and submit a report to the Maryland Center for School Safety, according to MCPS Director of School Safety Ed Clarke.

The center will then evaluate the report and participate in an “after-action critique and review,” Clarke said. Officials from the Maryland Center for School Safety are then required by law to submit a report to the governor and state legislature for their review. He did not give a timeline for the review.

Previous safety review

MCPS’ comprehensive review of school safety measures will be at least the second since 2018.

That year, a review was done after two students were accused of raping a teen in a bathroom at Rockville High School and after a mass shooting at a Florida high school left 17 dead. MCPS completed a broad review of all of its safety and security measures.

The final report was released in mid-2018. It outlined seven areas to focus on, including addressing security infrastructure, like cameras; instituting early intervention programs; and facility “enhancements” to “restrict or limit access to more isolated areas of school buildings.”

In the years since, MCPS has implemented many items from the report, including active assailant training.

But in recent months, as students return to a more normal school environment after nearly 18 months of virtual classes, the number of serious incidents has increased, according to school system data.

In a presentation to the school board earlier this month, MCPS staff members presented data that showed an increase in the number of “serious threats” made, sexual harassment or misconduct calls, suicidal ideation and weapons calls.

MCPS leaders have said the data underscore the need for more mental health resources for students and employees.

On Monday, McKnight added that the prevalence of gun violence, specifically, is not unique to the school system; It is a community problem, she said.

“Guns and weapons have become increasingly common in our community, and it’s going to take an entire community to solve this,” McKnight said. “We must work to remove the threat of weapons, because they threaten all of us, and not just in our schools.

“We must do this so that we can all return to a shared level of security in all corners of our community. As a place where our children go every single day, we have a special obligation to protect our school communities.”

Metal detectors

During a community meeting on Saturday, some parents asked if MCPS would consider installing metal detectors at its schools to help prevent firearms from making it into buildings.

Clarke, the director of safety and security for MCPS, said there has been some discussion, but doing so would be an “unbelievable undertaking.”

“When a school system anywhere in this state, in this country, commits to that type of weapons mitigation. … Once you go down that road, you’re very wed to that in the long term,” Clarke said.

In 2018, then-school board President Mike Durso asked MCPS to explore how much it would cost to install metal detectors at its schools.

In a report to the school board about a month later, then-Superintendent Jack Smith wrote that the full cost per school would depend on what equipment was installed. But, at the time, the estimated cost for a walk-through unit was $10,000; a wand detector was estimated to cost $200; and X-ray baggage scanners were roughly $35,000.

So, if there were three walk-through portals and six wand detectors at an entrance, the total would be about $32,000 per entrance, Smith wrote. The total would increase to more than $100,000 per entrance if two X-ray scanners were added.

His report added that at least three staff members would be needed to operate each entrance, adding about $81,000 per entrance.

“A recent report in the Los Angeles Unified School District found that the metal detection system was ineffective compared to other security measures and had a negative impact on school climate,” Smith wrote in 2018.

Staff writer Steve Bohnel contributed to this story.

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