MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. - In the wake of the Robb Elementary School mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, parents are feeling concerned again about school safety in Montgomery County.
School Resource Officers (SROs) were pulled from county schools earlier this year – only to return in a limited capacity following the January shooting inside Magruder High School.
The Magruder incident left a student badly injured and was the first time county leaders could recall a shooting actually happening inside a Montgomery County public school building.
Ahead of classes on Wednesday, the Maryland suburb was among a number of area jurisdictions to increase police presence at schools.
"In light of today's tragedy in Texas, MCP Community Engagement Officers will be continuously checking on our schools to ensure the safety of our students. We extend our sympathies to all those affected in Uvalde, Texas," Montgomery County Police tweeted Tuesday night.
When asked why officials want to remove officers from schools but then increase police presence in response to violent incidents, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich argued that mental health and gun control should be the focus.
"There’s no evidence that having officers in schools necessarily deters events of gun violence. I mean, that’s just a fact. And there have been gun violence incidents in schools where there were officers there, so this is not a panacea for the problem," Elrich said. "We made a decision to put officers back at the schools because the earlier decision that we and the school system and the council had made jointly was that we were going to use a model that kept police close to schools and able to respond but not necessarily inside the schools. Our response was going to be to focus on – because this is primarily a mental health issue, the underlying cause of it – we were going to increase the number of mental health workers in the school."
The county executive went on to say, "Because of the circumstances right now, as you know, the school system was not able to hire what they expected to hire. We never had the opportunity to see if this model would be effective or not. And the school system asked, and I agreed, that given the uptick in things right now that we would allow officers in the schools but on a very restricted basis. Meaning they were not allowed to any longer enforce school discipline, which the previous agreement with the police had said they couldn’t do and yet that was their primary activity in the schools."
Elrich told FOX 5, police are being asked to pay special attention to schools right now out of concern for potential copycats.
The County Executive said he is glad police are paying more attention to school under the circumstances and feels police are responding appropriately.
At the start of his Wednesday briefing, Elrich gave condolences, speaking as a former teacher. In an attempt to reassure families of what the school system and county are doing to increase student safety, he noted MCPS has done the following:
- 254 SECURITY STAFF
- 579 COUNSELORS
- 146 PSYCHOLOGISTS
- 36 SOCIAL WORKERS & DHHS WORKERS
- 140 SCHOOL NURSES
- 240 HEALTH ROOM TECHS
Elrich also noted the well-being and health rooms available to MCPS students. A parent responded to the county's actions online and mentioned that the school system has over 160,000 students.
Parents, guardians, and family members weighed in on what security meant to them on Wednesday.
A parent who is also a teacher told FOX 5 off-camera, that she would like to see more outreach to get students to open up more about what they’re going through. Others called for more police in schools and say it comforts them to know an officer is there.
FOX 5 also asked the county executive about plans to address school security. The county leader mentioned a closed stakeholder meeting held on Tuesday. "We’re going to further develop programs that deal with the real underlying program that these kids are dealing with," Elrich said.
A county spokesperson also shared a link to a Maryland Center for School Safety Dashboard, noting Montgomery County is one of at least four counties to have the most coverage of school-trained officers in the state. The site actually ranks Montgomery County at number one with at least 252 SRO and School Safety Officers trained. Prince George’s County comes in second with at least 240 trained school officers.