Baltimore school board to reconsider position on armed school police, days after staff member shot

Days after a staff member was shot inside a Baltimore high school, the city school board will reconsider its position on whether school police officers should be allowed to carry weapons during the school day.

Board members were scheduled to discuss House Bill 31 — which aimed to overturn a prohibition on school police officers carrying guns — during Tuesday night’s public meeting. Inclement weather pushed back the meeting, but it will be rescheduled.

The legislation was withdrawn after the board unanimously voted to oppose the bill three weeks ago. State Del. Cheryl D. Glenn, its sponsor, said she couldn’t move forward without local support.

But during the first board meeting since a man was shot and injured inside Frederick Douglass High School, the board is expected to revive the debate.

“We’ll reopen the conversation and see if what happened has caused people to change their minds,” board chair Cheryl Casciani said.

On Friday afternoon, a 25-year-old Baltimore man entered the lobby at Douglass and shot 56-year-old special education assistant Michael Marks twice in the torso. The man, Neil Davis, had come to the school to confront Marks about disciplining a family member who is a student at the school, according to charging documents.

After hearing the shots ring out, school police confronted Davis and took him into custody. No students were injured.

The police officer assigned to Douglass was unarmed as usual, according to school police union president Sgt. Clyde Boatwright. But the officer’s area supervisors, who happened to be with him at the school Friday for a conference, were carrying their weapons. District spokeswoman Edie House-Foster said no officer pulled out their firearm during the encounter.

Casciani said the incident “gave me pause,” but declined to say whether her position on arming school police had shifted. She voted on Jan. 22 to oppose House Bill 31, along with the rest of the 10-member school board.

After the Douglass shooting, Casciani said, “board members have a lot of questions to ask.”

Shortly after the incident, the school police union president began blasting the board. Boatwright has been among the most outspoken advocates of allowing officers to carry their guns during the school day.

Under current law, city schools police officers are allowed to carry their service weapons while patrolling the exterior of school buildings before and after school hours. But they are required to store their weapons in a secure location during the school day.

This arrangement, Boatwright argues, leaves city students and staff vulnerable. The union predicted something like Douglass would happen. Boatwright and other supporters say they don’t want to see Baltimore on a list alongside Parkland and Sandy Hook.

On the other side of the debate are those who argue that the presence of armed police officers has done little to prevent the deadliest school shootings in the past. They say adding more guns in schools would only strengthen the school-to-prison pipeline and put black children in particular at risk. These advocates say they don’t want to see a Baltimore student’s name on a list alongside Michael Brown or Tamir Rice.

One Douglass teacher, who was live-tweeting while his classroom was on lockdown, later tweeted that the shooting has not changed his stance on the issue.

“I still do not want guns in schools. To change the decision right now would be a knee-jerk reaction and an admission that listening to parents and kids is just lip-service,” Jesse Schneiderman posted.

Another bill that would have allowed school police officers to be armed inside schools failed during the General Assembly session in 2015.

Baltimore is the only jurisdiction in Maryland with a sworn school police force. In surrounding counties, local police or sheriff’s departments patrol schools and are allowed to carry their weapons.

trichman@baltsun.com

twitter.com/TaliRichman

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