County residents are invited to participate in a panel discussion surrounding Montgomery County Public Schools safety and security on Wednesday at a community action forum.
Organized by the Montgomery County Council of PTAs, Wednesday’s community forum will focus on community discussion of the county’s emergency preparedness and security. Since the December shooting that killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, county parents and leaders have spoken out about school safety concerns in Montgomery County.
Ranking representatives from across Montgomery County government will answer questions, including Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger, MCPS Deputy Superintendent Beth Schiavino-Narvaez, the county school board, head of MCPS school safety and security, as well as Montgomery County Councilmembers Craig Rice and Phil Andrews.
"We want to make sure we’re doing all that we can to keep our kids safe," Rice said. "A lot of this meeting will be telling people what security measures are already there. We also want to have a very open and candid conversation about what more can be done – what’s realistic and what’s not.”
According to Rice, the School Resource Officer program will be a big topic of conversation during Wednesday's meeting and during this year's council session. Rice has been a vocal advocate of the program, which stations police officers in schools as an added safety boost. In recent years budget cuts have limited the SRO program to one officer per police district.
"It’s important for us to start building that program back up," Rice said. "I think that you’ll see a push for that in this council session. There’s a number of things that are going on all together -- fiscally, with the [police] recruit class size and community outlook."
Wednesday’s school safety forum is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. in the auditorium of the Carver Educational Services Center in Rockville.
The County Council and the school board have recently begun efforts to upgrade schools security after parents began raising concerns about the security of several elementary schools across the county.
Family members of students at Bradley Hills Elementary in Bethesda have written to county leaders asking for security improvements at the elementary school’s temporary location. Parents at Potomac Elementary School have also expressed concern at what they see as a lack of safety coverage for the school’s portable classroom buildings.
The county school board voted last week to speed up spending to increase security at Montgomery County elementary schools, unanimously voting to request an additional $364,000 to place video intercom systems at the entrance of every county elementary school. If the Montgomery County Council approves the request, all 132 elementary campuses could receive the upgrade by July, the Washington Examiner reported.
Passage by the County Council is likely. A day before the vote, Council President Nancy Navarro (D-Dist. 4) of Silver Spring and Education Committee Chair Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring sent a letter to School Board President Christopher Barclay (Dist. 4) of Takoma Park requesting the school board hasten plans to increase school security in all of the county’s public schools.
“The County Council will make sure the Board of Education has the capital resources it needs to keep our kids safe,” Navarro (D-Dist. 4) of Silver Spring said in a news release. “We look forward to working collaboratively with the Board on this issue and other important topics throughout the budget process this year.”