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Questions surround Washington County school board's gang policy

School officials say gangs aren't a major problem

July 25, 2011|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com
  • Mike Markoe is assistant superintendent for student and staff support for Washington County Public Schools.
File photo

WASHINGTON COUNTY — The Washington County Board of Education recently adopted a policy addressing gangs, gang activity and similar destructive or illegal behaviors, but school system officials say gangs aren’t a big problem.

“I believe probably the most important point for the public to understand here (is) that this is a state mandate,” Mike Markoe, assistant superintendent for student and staff support, told the school board at its July 12 meeting. “We don’t recognize that we have an epidemic of gang activity in our schools. In fact, we believe we have little gang activity in our schools.”

The school system must submit its policy to the Maryland State Department of Education by Sept. 1, said Anthony Trotta, the school board’s chief legal counsel.

The policy, which defines gangs and gang activity, would require school employees to report any suspected gang activity or similar destructive or illegal group behavior to the principal or school-security coordinator.

The regulations for the policy provide more detail, including who is to be notified of a gang-related incident that is considered a “high level of severity,” such as criminal activity, imminent danger or disruption.

In such instances, police are to be consulted before notifying parents of the offender and/or victim of the allegation, the regulations state.

Training about gang prevention and intervention resources is to be provided at least annually to school administrators, teachers, other school-based staff, bus drivers and attendants, and school-security coordinators, under the regulations.

The board introduced its proposed policy at a May 3 meeting with a unanimous vote. A public meeting was held June 28 to get feedback from the Safe Schools Act Committee, which included educators, police, parents and representatives from agencies such as the state Department of Juvenile Service and the Washington County State’s Attorney’s Office.

The school board voted 5-2 to adopt the policy at its July 12 meeting at the central office off Commonwealth Avenue. The board also voted 5-2 to approve a gang-related incident reporting form and 5-2 to approve an investigation form.

Board members Donna Brightman and Karen Harshman cast the dissenting votes.

Brightman tried to ask questions about the regulations for the policy, but board member Jacqueline Fischer, who chairs the board’s Policy Committee, said the board wasn’t talking about or voting on the regulations.

Brightman said the regulations interpret the policy, and if they are not aligned with the policy, she has a right to ask questions.

After a brief discussion about meeting procedures, Brightman said they could proceed with the vote, but she “will not be voting for the policy unless I have some time to discuss the regulations.”

Harshman said she voted against the gang policy and the two forms because there was a question about it that was never answered.

Debating the regulations

Board President Wayne Ridenour said later that the board doesn’t vote on or change regulations.

However, if board members think the regulations don’t adhere to the policy, they can go through the board’s Policy Committee to get the policy rewritten or ask the superintendent to take a look at the regulations, he said.

Brightman wanted to talk about the regulations, which were not part of the vote, so it was a procedural matter, Ridenour said.

“If she wants to bring them up at some other point in time, that’s fine. We can discuss the regulations and any problems people might have,” he said.

Brightman later said the policy and regulations were not brought back to the board after being reviewed and modified by the Policy Committee and the Safe Schools Act Committee.

She had a few concerns, including the absence of a fiscal note related to after-school programs; that the regulations did not call for an annual report to the elected board; and that the investigation form doesn’t align with a manual school administrators use for misconduct investigations.

A section in the regulations about services for students suspected of participating in gang activity states that “sustainable after-school programs will be implemented, as needed, in collaboration with other stakeholders.”

Brightman said she shared her concerns with the board’s attorney and Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox, and will wait to see the final regulations before deciding whether to bring up any issues at a board meeting.

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