HCPSS Forges Path to Safer Schools with Community Forum
Posted: February 28th, 2018
The Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) hosted a School Safety and Mental Health Community Forum on Tuesday, Feb. 27, in the wake of the recent tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Six-hundred community members attended the public forum to ask questions and engage in dialogue about solutions to ensuring that Howard County schools are safe and healthy learning environments for children and staff.
“Many folks in Howard County don’t believe something so tragic could happen here, but bad things can happen if we let our guard down. Violence can occur anywhere and to anyone. It doesn’t discriminate. So we all need to work collaboratively to protect our school community,” HCPSS Interim Superintendent Michael Martirano said.
Howard County Board of Education Chairman Cynthia Vaillancourt emphasized the importance of community involvement, encouraging families to proactively report bullying, seek mental health support for students, and reach out to system leaders.
The school system is pursuing a three-pronged approach to create safer schools, including enhanced physical school security, stronger policies and training around active shooter response; increased mental health support for students; and greater collaboration between the school system and community.
Martirano announced several initiatives to enhance the physical security of its schools, including installing a buzzer system and locking the front doors of every high school by the end of this school year. The front doors of Howard County public elementary and middle schools are already locked with a buzzer system for entrance.
The school system recently established the Office of Safety and Security to address and review policies on school security, enhance training for students and staff, reinforce the importance of lockdown drills, and implement security improvements based on individual school visits. The Office of Safety and Security has also created a workgroup with the Department of Special Education, the Special Education parent liaison, and many parent advocates to assess evacuation procedures for students with special needs.
Martirano discussed the school system’s efforts to expand mental health services to better identify students who require supports and collaborate with families and community partners to fulfill their needs. HCPSS is implementing a multi-year plan to add social workers across schools to provide support at every level, from elementary to high.
Additionally, HCPSS has increased collaboration with its county partners. The school system is working with the police chief and county executive on a multi-year plan to staff all middle schools with school resource officers. Furthermore, County Executive Allan Kittleman, through the Office of Emergency Management, is funding a full-time planner to expedite the HCPSS Office of Safety and Security in strengthening emergency response plans in schools. The Office of Safety and Security is also coordinating more with the Howard County Police Department on intelligence and investigations, and with the Howard County Fire and Rescue Services for increased first aid training.
The community spoke with forum panel members, including:
- Dr. Michael J. Martirano, HCPSS superintendent
- Gary Gardner, Howard County Police Department chief
- John Butler, Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services chief
- Ryan Miller, Howard County Office of Emergency Management director
- Dr. Maura Rossman, Howard County Department of Health officer
- Frank Eastham, HCPSS chief of School Management and Instructional Leadership
- Dr. Cynthia Schulmeyer, HCPSS School Psychology and Instructional Intervention coordinator
- Dr. J.T. Ridgely, HCPSS Crisis Intervention Team chairperson
Additionally, Martirano recognized Michele Gay, a mother whose child was lost in the Sandy Hook school tragedy, for her advocacy through Safe and Sound Schools.
To continue supporting families, the school system has launched an online resource page, covering ways to facilitate discussion about current events, controversial issues and school violence, and also spotting warning signs of mental health issues and how to provide support.