The official student newspaper of Walter Johnson High School

The Pitch

The official student newspaper of Walter Johnson High School

The Pitch

The official student newspaper of Walter Johnson High School

The Pitch

Countywide school security incidents prompt concern

A+Montgomery+County+Police+Department+police+car+stands+stopped+on+Democracy+Boulevard+as+WJ+students+cross.+MCPD+has+dealt+with+a+large+spike+in+the+number+of+school-related+security+incidents%2C+including+a+student+with+a+loaded+gun+at+WJ+on+Oct.+23
Photo by Seyun Park
A Montgomery County Police Department police car stands stopped on Democracy Boulevard as WJ students cross. MCPD has dealt with a large spike in the number of school-related security incidents, including a student with a loaded gun at WJ on Oct. 23

Recent countywide security incidents have prompted students and the community to call for changes to MCPS’ security policies, as concern grows over student safety.

So far in the month of October, there have been at least 10 serious security incidents across MCPS schools. These include a social media threat at Northwest on Oct. 6, a shelter-in-place from social media threats at Watkins Mill High School on Oct. 18, a bomb threat at Rockville on Oct. 23, two evacuations from bomb threats at Einstein and Springbrook High Schools on Oct. 25 and a bomb threat at Paint Branch High School on Oct. 26. In addition, at Blair High School, in the past three weeks, three separate bomb threats on Oct. 13, 16 and 23, resulted in a full school evacuation. Closest to home, at WJ, on Oct. 23, a WJ student was found armed with a gun and was subsequently arrested and charged.

The three threats at Blair were linked to one 12-year-old child emailing threats; however, it has not yet been determined if any or all of the other threats and incidents are linked.

In reaction to the many incidents, leaders around the county emphasized the seriousness of the issue and the need for change.

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“It’s just so frustrating to see all these people treat it like a joke when it’s not, people have died, Blair students, including one I knew, … [and] people think it’s funny to send the school into a panic with a [bomb threat],” Blair High School junior and SMOB Advisory Council Chief of Staff Sam Ross said.

The SMOB Advisory Council is a group of students who provide input to the Student Member of the Board (SMOB), Richard Montgomery senior Sami Saeed. Saeed also echoed the seriousness of the issue.

The numerous bomb threats our schools have been receiving, … I do not take them lightly … I strongly condemn all of these terrible threats that are wasting our resources, causing large disruptions in our schools and damaging the wellbeing of our students.”

— MCPS SMOB Sami Saeed

“The numerous bomb threats our schools have been receiving, … I do not take them lightly … I strongly condemn all of these terrible threats that are wasting our resources, causing large disruptions in our schools and damaging the wellbeing of our students,” Saeed said.

Saeed, as a voting member of the Board of Education, introduced his first resolution to the Board at its regular business meeting on Thursday, Oct. 26. The resolution calls on Superintendent Monifa McKnight to modify the current safety and security plan, including rolling out an ID check program similar to WJ’s at all high schools in the county. Currently, besides WJ, only Richard Montgomery, Rockville, BCC and Seneca Valley High Schools practice similar ID checks. Other changes include increased training for both students and staff, more bathroom monitoring, implementation of additional security technology and improved safety-related communication.

Saeed’s resolution also requires McKnight to promote awareness of anonymous reporting methods and best safety practices, engage with students through the formation of a Student Safety Advisory Committee and report back to the Board by April 2024 with updates on the changes.

Following the standard protocol for new resolutions, the Board tabled voting on the resolution until its next business meeting on Thursday, Nov. 9.

Besides actions like those in the resolution, some have also raised the idea of more drastic security measures like implementing metal detectors and reintroducing school resource officers (SROs) to schools.

“Bomb threats and potential shootings are becoming more and more prevalent in my life … I personally do not have a problem with adding police officers or extra security guards as a means of protecting all students. Our health and safety should be the top priority,” a WJ junior who asked to remain anonymous said.

Students queue outside the metal detectors at the entrance of Jackson-Reed High School. Jackson-Reed is one of the area schools that uses metal detectors and has since at least the 1990s. (Photo courtesy Matthew Burris)

The feasibility of implementing metal detectors at school entrances has been questioned; however, some nearby schools have been successful with metal detectors. For example, Jackson-Reed High School, the largest high school in DC with more than 2000 students, has metal detectors at its entrance and has had them since at least the 1990s according to an article by the Jackson-Reed Beacon.

“It’s a fairly simple process that nobody really thinks about. It is just a habit and at this point and doesn’t slow us down enough for it to be annoying,” Jackson-Reed senior Matthew Burris said.

Burris did however mention minor inconveniences such as having to remove metal forks from lunchboxes, or longer lines if and when one of the school’s detectors breaks.

In Prince George’s County, PGCPS started a campaign in September to install metal detectors in all high schools by November after a student was fatally shot close to campus. An MCPS cost estimate for implementing metal detectors from a 2018 report estimated that each walk-through machine would cost $10,000, each x-ray bag scanner would cost $35,000 and additional staff would have to be hired to operate and maintain both machines across the district.

What are your thoughts on the SRO program?

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Another school safety measure that has been proposed is the return of school resource officers, or SROs, who are police officers present at each school. SROs were removed from MCPS schools in the fall of 2021, and were replaced by community engagement officers – police officers who are assigned to schools but not physically present in schools. After similar debates over the role of SROs following the January 2022 shooting of a student at Magruder High School, MCPS slightly altered its SRO policy in May 2022, but the structure remained similar and was not a complete return to the original policy.

“I think that metal detectors or reimplementing the full SRO program are not yet warranted unless we see repeated and constant safety issues that those measures could solve,” Saeed said.

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Seyun Park
Seyun Park, Print Editor-in-Chief
Junior Seyun Park is in his third year of the Pitch, happy to join this year as a Print Editor-in-Chief. Outside of Pitch, Seyun plays tennis and cello, and likes to follow hockey.
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