MCPS to train middle school teachers on de-escalating situations involving student conflicts

Hundreds of middle school teachers in Montgomery County will soon be getting trained on how to help de-escalate certain in-school situations and conflict that might arise between students.

The method will provide training on restorative justice to avoid having police intervene.

The training will be introduced within 40 middle schools to more than 1400 teachers and staff. 

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MCPS and the county have said this isn’t meant to put staff or teachers at risk especially if there happens to be a physical altercation between students, rather what teachers can do to better communicate before a situation escalates or what they can do to help a student after the fact.

"Instead of suspending that young man or another student how do we resolve the situation going forward and come up with strategies that will make it less likely for something like that to happen again?" explained County Councilman Will Jawando. "It’s a way that is proven to reduce the need for suspensions, expulsions and arrests which we know disproportionately happens to students of color to kids of color and students with disabilities."

Jawando and At-Large Councilmember Hans Reimer are behind this new county law that was approved unanimously this week.

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The bill does not eliminate school resource officers but sponsors of the bill are hoping this approach will give proof that SRO’s are not needed.

"Kids are dealing with a lot of developmental changes," Jawando continued, "that’s when bullying really picks up and you need the appropriate tools to handle that and is not focused on discipline and arrests."

The bill is meant to allow students to actively engage and problem solve physical, psychological, social issues that affect their lives, take responsibility for their actions and work with those affected to restore the community and members who were harmed as a result of those actions.

"A fight doesn’t happen in a bubble, a misunderstanding or miscommunication didn’t happen in a bubble," said Ruschelle Reuben, associate superintendent of student and family support and engagement. "Usually there is either some sort of social media commentary that happened before or a verbal commentary that happened days before, perhaps even at lunch right before that class where something happened, so usually there are things and events that led up to the situation."

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FOX 5’s Ayesha Khan inquired how this approach compares to some other surrounding school districts.

Fairfax County Public Schools for example works with their SRO’s. 

According to spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell, all FCPS high schools and middle schools have school resource officers embedded on-site. 

She said police do not intervene in school discipline matters. FCPS only acts when they have the authority to do so under criminal and traffic law. Often, FCPS works with school staff to divert referrals away from the criminal justice system.

Prince George’s County Public Schools were talking about eliminating SRO’s but that topic was tabled.

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Ayesha also reached out to the Montgomery County Education Association and asked what their take is on this training and in a statement from spokeswoman Kiwana Hall, Ayesha was told:

"Given our stance of no position on SROs, we won’t be commenting on this story."

Reuben said MCPS has been working with this program for the last three and a half years but in very small numbers within some high schools. That’s why she said MCPS decided to expand it in a major way to all middle schools. She said MCPS is one of the larger public school systems that’s approaching this method on such a large scale.