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The Aegis
Harford County

Harford County Public Schools steps up efforts to reduce campus violence

Less than a month after a brawl at Havre de Grace High School that required local police intervention, Harford County Public Schools received with an updated security plan to mitigate the rise in campus violence.

The new plan, presented during the Board of Education meeting last week, will expand staffing by adding safety liaisons.

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Board members said student discipline issues on and off campus in recent months have pushed them to step up their security efforts with more staffing and training.

“As people have noted, we have seen changes in behavior,” said Superintendent Sean Bulson. “We have seen changes in student behaviors and adult behaviors. Having those extra set of hands will be helpful with security. This team can be very well trained, but we will also need to de-escalate situations and counsel and support.”

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Safety and Security Chief Donoven Brooks presented the security plan to the board. He explained that a safety and security work group was created to discuss major safety issues plaguing the district. The group addressed several topics, including post-COVID stress, stakeholder outreach, professional development, Parent Academy Real Talk videos on safety, critical incident revisions, emergency drills and threat assessments.

The work group asked a stakeholder focus group to take a survey on how best to minimize violence, Brooks said. The focus group included students, parents, principals, school-based staff, teacher leaders, law enforcement, business partners, Board of Education members, school safety liaisons and central office staff.

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“The group shared HCPS needs a clear vision and a comprehensive plan to enhance consistency,” said Stacey Gerringer, principal of Abingdon Elementary School. “Our leaders recommended that the office of safety and security be expanded from its current staffing because it is just not enough,”

The stakeholder focus group is concerned about mental health, helping students who experience suicidal thoughts, and the impact of social media on bullying and harassment, Gerringer said.

The teacher leaders in the stakeholder group recommended safety drills and training while the entire group recommended clearer lines of communication.

Currently, the safety and security department supports 58 schools, 38,000 students and more than 5,000 employees. There are 27 school resource officers assigned to secondary schools, three school resource officers for the 27 elementary schools, and eight school safety liaisons assigned to secondary schools. Resource officers are police officers, while liaisons work with students and staff to prevent incidents from occurring.

To give additional support, Bulson suggested adjusting the budget to have a school safety liaison at every secondary school and have a team of five “floater” security liaisons that can be deployed as needed.

“This dramatically increases our security capabilities. Securing a building takes tremendous team work. One person cannot do it alone,” Bulson said. “One thing we learned going through this pandemic when we did the different things we did just to get more hands available in the schools where we could it has made a difference.”

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As this program expands, HCPS will have more trained and certified people throughout the county at school, Brooks said. The board is expecting a follow-up safety and security report in the spring.


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