Perry Hall community airs concerns after school shooting
Hundreds of parents gather to question administration about metal detectors, communication challenges
Concerned citizens listen as principal George Roberts speaks at a community meeting at Perry Hall High School. (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore Sun / September 3, 2012)
From metal detectors to tighter student discipline policies and more sophisticated communication systems, dozens of parents called for action Tuesday night in the wake of the Aug. 27 shooting that left Daniel Borowy, 17, a special needs student, in critical condition. His 15-year-old classmate, Robert W. Gladden Jr., faces 29 charges, including attempted murder, in connection with the shooting.
School officials assured emotional parents that they would be reviewing the events of the shooting in the coming weeks.
Officials, citing the review, would not commit to any measures even as parents pressed them about how the school could prevent a gun from being brought into the building.
Metal detectors "is something we'll look at in the next few weeks," said Perry Hall Principal George Roberts. "It's not something we're prepared to say, 'Yes, we will,' but something we'll look at."
He said the metal detectors would be a community decision.
School board President Lawrence Schmidt said the board would wait until a debriefing about the shooting before weighing any policy changes.
"We'll decide what, if anything, we'll do at that time," Schmidt said, adding that he was waiting for all of the details of a report that will be provided to the board.
In addition to calling for metal detectors, parents questioned the strength of the system's bullying and discipline policies, calling them too lax. Gladden's lawyer has said his client was bullied, which pushed him to a breaking point.
They said administrators needed to be more responsive to complaints of bullying.
"Individuals are bringing more and more issues to our administration, and that's what we need," said schools Superintendent Dallas Dance. "Any situation that comes to our attention — we had one today — we take it seriously." He didn't elaborate about the situation.
Bob Anzelc, executive director of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, told the board that the union urges that more training be provided for teachers, staff, parents and students to look for warning signs in troubled students.
"We must be vigilant in the future to help these students who feel so alienated and hopeless that they are willing to take such extreme measures to get someone's attention," he said, reading a statement from TABCO president Abby Beytin.
Parents, including one who watched his daughter taken from the school on a gurney on the Internet, also questioned administrators about their emergency communications plans, saying they received word of the shooting and their children's whereabouts via text messages from students and the media.
Roberts acknowledged that the school would look to improve its communications, not just in speed but substance.
"We didn't want to send out a messed-up message," Roberts said. "When that first message hit you, we wanted it to be something substantial."
Many parents also came to the school administrators' defense — saying that despite the challenges they faced on the day of the shooting, they fulfilled their primary goal: saving lives.
"They're pointing the finger, but they fail to realize he had 20 rounds, and we could have been going to 20 funerals," said Gwen Woodall, the mother of a senior.
"It brought some closure, despite the anger," her daughter, Tiffany Woodall, said of the meeting.
But other parents said they wanted to see administrators make a stronger commitment at the meeting to precautionary measures.
"This meeting, for me, was a first step," said Faida Hill, whose son is a freshman. "Now they can start putting plans together in terms of bullying, communications and safety."
"I know everyone says, 'But it's never happened before,' " she added, "but now it has, and we have to have the plans for moving forward."