Schools address safety issues

April 02, 2001

Schools address safety issues


Fifty Washington County students were suspended in March for making threats of violence, according to a Washington County Board of Education report.


The School Board hopes to address that statistic today when members talk about safety and intervention plans at a 10 a.m. work session at the central office on Commonwealth Avenue.

According to the report, there were 59 incidents at all of the county's schools from March 1 to March 28, and police were called 53 times.


E. Russell Hicks Middle School and Williamsport High School had the highest number of incidents with eight each. Northern, Springfield and Western Heights middle schools had the second highest number with four each.

"Most of them were things that we would've handled in-house privately, but the board has said we will treat them seriously," said E. Russell Hicks Principal Deidre Shumaker of the incidents at that school.

Shumaker said the incidents consisted of students threatening other students, but said she didn't think students and staff were ever in any danger.

"If a kid says, 'I'm going to shoot you,' we're going to call the police," she said. "Do I honestly think anyone was in danger? No, but you never know. To be on the safe side, we have treated each one as a major event."

Roger Giles, principal of Williamsport High School, said Monday he needed to gather information on the eight incidents at that school and would comment today.

Some of the incidents school officials say occurred throughout the school system in March include:

--A 12-year-old E. Russell Hicks student threatened to kill another student.

--A 13-year-old Northern Middle student threatened to stab a classmate on March 15. No knife was found.

--A 17-year-old Boonsboro High School student told two Boonsboro Middle School girls he would "set their hair on fire" if they didn't get out of his seat on the bus.

--A Clear Spring Middle School student was suspended for taking a carbon dioxide-powered BB pistol to school.

Last year, 29 students were suspended from Washington County public schools for taking firearms or other weapons to school, according to a report by the Maryland State Department of Education.

William McKinley, executive director of support services, said no weapons were found in any of the 59 incidents, but the Clear Spring Middle School student did admit to bringing the BB pistol to school.

He said there's always a surge of threats when other cases of national school violence occur, such as the shooting incidents in California and Pennsylvania last month.

McKinley said Washington County is usually has among the lowest number of incidents throughout the state.

Shumaker said E. Russell Hicks normally would have fewer than eight incidents a month, and also said the California and Pennsylvania school shootings could be spurring the threats.

She said that she made an announcement over the school's PA system telling anybody who hears a threat to report it to school authorities.

"So they did," Shumaker said. "They did what we said. In a lot of cases, kids wouldn't have told anyone."

Each school in the system has a school crisis response plan that must be reviewed every year, according to a School Board report. Copies of the plans have been provided to law enforcement agencies.

In the most serious cases, school staff should call 911 and the superintendent's office first.

Once a threat is made, the principal decides whether it must be reported to the police before contacting the student's parents. Further action is then determined by administrators. If the threat is serious enough, the superintendent decides whether a student should be expelled.

Shumaker said the incidents usually result in suspensions of three to five days.

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