Public Statement of the Worcester County Board of Education on School Safety
In response to the letter received by the Board from the Worcester County State’s Attorney and the Worcester County Sheriff on September 21, the Board has now met on three separate occasions. After spending hours on the issues raised, it is clear that very little can be presently agreed upon between the Sheriff, State’s Attorney, and our Executive Team. This is unfortunate.
It is important that everyone understand that it is this Board’s opinion that this is not a matter of “truth” vs. “fiction” but rather a clear breakdown in communication between the Sheriff, State’s Attorney, and school system’s Executive Team. This needs immediate attention and correction.
This Board does not agree with the characterization that our schools are unsafe or that there has been consistent unreported violence; this is not accurate. The Board does agree however that there is room for improvement in certain areas of school safety and corrective measures have been implemented already. Additionally, we look forward to capturing further opportunities for improvement at any time as they may arise. Worcester County Public Schools, through the dedicated leadership of Chief Safety Officer Dr. Annette Wallace, has devoted and will continue to devote substantial time and resources to the training and education of faculty and staff on school safety.
This Board recognizes that there may be different philosophical approaches to school safety but what is clear is that amongst the State’s Attorney, the Sheriff, and Executive Team, there needs to be a greater understanding and appreciation for the role that each partner plays and how the differing approaches can co-exist without their individual roles being hindered and without any laws being broken.
The Board’s number one priority is to provide a safe learning environment for the children of Worcester County, and one way to further this priority, relevant to the issue of school safety, is that today I am announcing the formation of a School Safety Task Force. The purpose of this Task Force will be:
- To help facilitate and effectuate strong communication between all partners and to serve as an avenue to discuss and relay concerns that might exist on an ongoing and regular basis;
- To provide an opportunity for a subject matter expert to present to all partners on the nuisances of Maryland School Law and the Federal Law that applies to certain classifications of students and the restrictions and discipline that can be administrated to these students;
- To serve as a liaison to this Board to keep us informed as to all matters concerning school safety;
- To make recommendations to this Board as it may see fit; and
- To initially work through the real and substantive issues contained within the two presentations made to the Board of Education, so any uncertainty and misunderstanding can be eliminated and opportunities for improvement can be implemented.
Board of Education Members Elena McComas, Katie Addis, and Bill Gordy have volunteered to serve on this task force alongside the Superintendent of Schools and/or Chief Safety Officer. In addition, the Board of Education invites the Worcester County State’s Attorney and the Sheriff to be active members of this task force. The Board of Education also believes that one of the initial considerations of the task force should be whether additional members should be added to the task force. It is important that all key players are active members of this group, so its purpose can be fulfilled. We further believe that the Board of Education Attorney should be a non-voting member of this task force to help facilitate and moderate the task force.
We believe this task force is the first next step to help resolve the communication issues that exist and eliminate the varied views on certain specific topics. While in the end the Board acknowledges that differences may still exist and recollections may continue to vary, but one thing is for certain: we all must do everything possible to eliminate the divide that exists and collectively work together to find common ground. The relationships are simply too important to fail.
It was important to the Board that the community be made aware that we have taken this matter very seriously; we have done our due diligence, and we believe that we have found a path forward. We will be responding to the State’s Attorney and Sheriff in a letter in the coming days with more detail, but the Board wished to get this statement released as quickly and as responsibly as possible.