Gun incident at school

School Superintendent Dallas Dance said the school system will launch a new Office of Safety and Security after the second gun incident in two weeks. (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun / September 10, 2012)

School principals across Baltimore County met with faculty members Friday to review school safety plans, in the aftermath of two recent gun-related incidents that shook parents, teachers and children.

School leaders also reminded students that if they notice unsettling behavior among their peers, they should report it to trusted adults. Superintendent Dallas Dance, meanwhile, urged open communication between students and staff, as well as "tough conversations" with young people.

Students "outnumber us about 10 to 1," Franklin High School Principal Patrick McCusker said, outlining his message to his school. "And they may be more aware of a change in one of their friends' behavior and notice something before a classroom teacher would pick up on it. …

"They're sitting at the lunchroom tables with those students. They're on the bus with those students."

Earlier this week, police said, a 13-year-old boy brought a loaded handgun to Stemmers Run Middle School in Essex and threatened his teacher and classmates, though no one was injured. That came just two weeks after a shooting in Perry Hall High School's cafeteria critically wounded 17-year-old Daniel Borowy.

McCusker said that at his meeting with staff at the Reisterstown school, he reviewed existing procedures for crises. Through the school's public address system, he reminded students that there would be an increased police presence in the school, and homeroom teachers told them to "always report anything they think could be harmful to students or staff."

The talks were meant "to reinforce what we have in place, but also to say we all have to be more vigilant and aware of what's going on," said schools spokesman Mychael Dickerson. "This is something we hope is ongoing."

Some principals met in person with students, while others delivered their messages through the intercom system or through teachers, Dickerson said.

The 106,000-student school system, the largest in the Baltimore area, also has announced plans to create an office of safety and security, though a timeline for that hasn't yet been set. It is also increasing the police presence in schools and is working to purchase hand-held metal detectors.

Tanya Stansbury of Middle River, whose sixth-grade daughter attends Stemmers Run, said she has not been totally satisfied with the school system's response. She thinks parents should have an opportunity to meet with principals personally.

"There should be some kind of meeting for 'What is his plan for this not to happen again' " she said. "I am glad they acted quickly, but I feel really sorry for the teachers who had to put their life on the line to protect the students."

In a video posted Friday on the school system's website, Dance said the recent incidents "require all of us as a community to come together around the topic of school safety."

He added: "We must make sure that our schools are environments where students feel they have someone that they can share information with — that if they think something's going to happen, or if something is about to happen, they have an avenue to share that information."

Administrators must "keep the lines of communication open with our community," Dance said. "The community must have tough conversations with our young people. We must make sure that they understand that there are right and wrong things to do."

Dance urged parents to follow state law by locking up handguns so they are not accessible to youths. In the Stemmers Run case, the student's grandfather was charged with failing to secure the handgun that police say was brought to school.

Students received a letter for their parents, with a reminder about the Safe Schools Tip Hotline (1-877-636-6332), where anyone can report information about people or situations that are "suspicious or disconcerting."

School officials said they also are working to create a tip line where people can report information via text message and email.

Tim Hayden, coordinator of school counseling, said school leaders want to convey a sense of community.

"Part of being a good citizen is, if you see something, say something," Hayden said. "Even though we are a large system, we really are a community."

alisonk@baltsun.com

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