Baltimore Schools Police officials say they’re looking to implement a program that would alert school officials when a student is exposed to trauma.
Baltimore Schools Police Chief Akil Hamm said at a City Hall hearing on school safety Wednesday that the department is looking to put into effect the “Handle With Care” program, under which police inform school officials anytime they know a student has been exposed to a traumatic or negative event.
The idea, which was mandated for statewide use in February 2018 by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, has been in effect in Anne Arundel County for several months.
Hamm said that while officers with the schools police department are still looking to expand communication with school officials, he said the department has been constrained in its efforts by officer turnover.
“It’s something we’re still trying to streamline,” Hamm said, adding that he hopes to start the program soon “so that we can get the appropriate wraparound services” for affected youth.
The program was part of a broader discussion Wednesday at City Hall on school violence in the wake of a spate of incidents at city schools, especially at Frederick Douglass High School.
Several students from the school spoke about how conditions at the Mondawmin neighborhood school affect their ability to learn and how recent incidents have exposed students to trauma on a regular basis.
Brianna Harris, a student, said the atmosphere at the school creates tension, with hallways that smell like “spoiled milk” and facilities that are “crawling with bugs.”
“Imagine coming face-to-face with a metal detector every single day,” she said. “This is before first period has even started.”
The discussion touched on mental health, a lack of staff, and social media, which several officials said increases violence by glorifying the incidents.
Hamm said part of the larger problem is students “taking inappropriate pictures,” which are then shared. He added that some school fights originate from discussion on social media.
Anne Arundel County officials have raised the same concern in recent months, with a recent study saying social media have fueled an increase in violence in county schools.
Daniel Parsons, an 11th-grade teacher at Frederick Douglass, said the issue is worsened by aggregate websites that promote online videos, including acts of violence.
He called on those in attendance to “deal with the role social media” play in school violence, adding that “often, these encounters get filmed and go viral.”
Hamm said the relationship between students and school police has been relatively positive in recent years, pointing to graphs that showed a decrease from nearly 1,000 arrests of juveniles during the 2008-2009 school year to only 47 this school year.
He juxtaposed that against statistics showing the majority of students view schools police positively and that officers are more geared toward solving problems with “restorative circles,” meaning speaking with students, school officials and guardians about possible solutions rather than arresting them by default.
Acting Health Commissioner Letitia Dzirasa said about 30 percent of Baltimore children are exposed to an “adverse childhood event,” meaning they were either the victim or witness to a traumatic event, compared with 19 percent statewide.
Councilman Zeke Cohen asked questions regarding the availability and effectiveness of school psychologists and mental health officials, calling on officials to examine whether the city’s worst schools “need more than one school psychologist” and to provide data about the current racial makeup of those officials.
“Too many of our kids … do not receive the mental health services they need,” Cohen said.