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Refinements of Carroll County schools’ policies on guns, violent threats proposed

Master Deputy Justin Shriver, South Carroll's school resource officer, looks on as students are dismissed on the first day of school Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018.
Master Deputy Justin Shriver, South Carroll's school resource officer, looks on as students are dismissed on the first day of school Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times file)

The Safe to Learn Act had wide-reaching effects on school security in Maryland after it was passed by the Maryland General Assembly in the wake of high-profile and deadly school shootings.

With more than a year operating under those changes, Carroll County Public Schools has put forth some revisions to its policies on threats, violent acts, firearms and other weapons in hopes of reflecting “how our best practice has evolved as we’ve implemented the new legal requirements,” Superintendent Steve Lockard said in the Board of Education’s July 8 meeting, when the proposed changes were discussed.

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The policy and regulations are out for public review before the Board of Education’s Aug. 12 meeting and can be found at carrollk12.org under “Board of Education” and “Agendas and Documents.” The July 8 meeting is archived on the “CCPS Media” YouTube channel. This discussion starts at about one hour and 15 minutes into the recording.

The discussion also sparked a conversation about a provision that categorizes retired law enforcement officers among those allowed to carry weapons on school property.

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Karl Streaker, director of student services, summarized the changes for the board, highlighting one of the biggest as defining and laying out the responsibilities for school-based triage teams and behavioral threat assessment teams alongside the countywide team in Central Office.

Streaker said this language in the policy better reflects how incidents have best been handled.

Triage teams — made of the school’s principal, a mental health provider and a law enforcement officer such as the school resource officer — are meant to immediately address any behavioral threats. Behavioral threat assessment teams do the comprehensive work after the immediate situation has been dealt with to set up mental health supports and safety plans for those involved. The Central Office team is tasked with support and oversight.

The ways in which threats are categorized by risk level was also updated.

Behavioral threats are classified as transient, serious substantive or very serious substantive. Transient threats can be resolved on the scene and are resolved after intervention. These could include fleeting expression of anger, a joke, or a statement made for attention seeking or disruption. Threats become serious substantive when the threat promises to cause serious harm and there is an actual or perceived ability to carry them out. Very serious substantive threats include a threat or act to kill, rape, shoot or injure with a weapon when the student has the ability to carry out the plan. In the case of these threats, “Long-term safety planning which includes increased supervision is critical,” according to the proposed regulations.

The revisions to the policy are also intended to more clearly articulate the exceptions to rules against carrying a weapon on school property that mainly apply to current or retired law enforcement officers, according to Duane Williams, supervisor of school security and emergency management.

Based on the document, Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, who serves as the ex officio representative for the BOE, commented that he thought there should be as few firearms on school campuses as possible. He asked whether it would be better for retired law enforcement officers to keep weapons in their vehicles while at school events.

Williams said, “I proffer that if an active assailant come on campus, we wouldn’t want someone who is there and capable to respond not to be able to respond.” He referenced the speed at which previous school shootings have taken place and said it would take time for a person to return to their vehicle to retrieve a weapon before responding to the threat.

Streaker said for clarification that this has been the school system’s policy for many years and the revisions were not bringing something new, but rather is aiming to articulate it more clearly.

Board President Donna Sivigny said they would be happy to hear from the community if there were any concerns.

The Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act (LEOSA) is federal law allowing current and “qualified retired or separated” law enforcement officers to carry concealed firearms.

Board member Tara Battaglia said, “I don’t see them going into the school and start waving their gun around. That’s not what they do. I don’t understand why it’s got to be brought up as a concern. You don’t know unless you see it ... it’s not just an everyday person coming in off the street, it’s a trained individual.”

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Devanshi Mistry, student representative on the board, said that generally students feel safer the fewer firearms are on a school campus, but she was interested to hear what others had to say on the topic.

Board member Kenny Kiler said it was a good discussion, but “I think if we were changing to this, I’d be more skeptical.” He asked if Sheriff Jim DeWees had ever expressed any concern about the provision in the law.

Williams said that in his five years with CCPS there have been no issues of a person covered by LEOSA brandishing a weapon or refusing to follow the rules.

Board member Patricia Dorsey said that when she was a principal, during evening events, “You knew who your police folks were who were coming on to your campus and ... more than anything you felt a little more secure rather than the opposite of that.”

Streaker said, “I appreciate the feedback on that and good healthy discussion on that.”

Under the discipline section of the documents, he said that one change was made to separate the immediate management of the threat from later discipline. A “violence assessment” was also changed to a “behavioral threat assessment” in order to keep up with current terminology in the field.

Later Battaglia asked about ways for parents to contact the school triage team about a threat made online and include screenshots.

Options include contacting the school principal of using the Safe Schools Maryland Tip Line, an anonymous reporting service. This can be accessed through the SafeSchoolsMD app, by calling 1-833-632-7233 or through safeschoolsmd.org.

If there is a life-threatening imminent emergency, call 911, Streaker said.

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