Meeting airs safety concerns at Towson High after unfounded threat

After an unfounded rumor about a possible school shooting caused alarm in the Towson High School community, parents and students met with county officials to discuss safety protocols and concerns.

The crowd of around 20 people told school administrators Monday night their biggest worries were the ease of access to the building and the trailers that hold classrooms in the overcrowded schools.

“In classrooms you go to an internal wall (during a shooting). In a trailer, that’s not a thing,” said Towson High junior Hope Steger, 16, of Wiltondale. She said she would not know what to do if she were in a trailer during an incident, and “my friends and I are still terrified.”

The meeting, organized by Towson Area Citizens on Patrol vice president Pat France and parent Stephanie Boudreau, was prompted by a rumor that started on social media about a school shooting about two weeks ago.

Though the rumor was unfounded, Boudreau said it caused widespread anxiety and sparked a heated discussion on the neighborhood-focused website Nextdoor about safety at the school.

One student at the meeting said many of his friends did not attend school the day after the rumor spread.

Samuel Mustipher, executive director for secondary schools for the central zone, which includes Towson, said administrators face difficult decisions when rumors like that spread about when and what to tell parents.

“We’re trying to be transparent with the process,” Mustipher said. “But as you see, that transparency, it alarms people.”

When a threat is reported, school officials today contact police first, said Penelope Martin-Knox, chief of school climate and safety for the school system. The challenge today, she said, is “chasing down the social media posts.”

After evaluating the threat, Martin-Knox said schools reach out to parents, sending a letter or message.

Martin-Knox told the crowd her staff was listening and taking notes. In the next few weeks, she said she will visit Towson High School and do a walk-through.

She said administrators often review safety protocol, making sure it is not just implemented, but also enforced. For example, she said, schools train and retrain the secretaries who control the buzzer that lets visitors into the building.

But some complaints, like the trailers outside Towson High, are less easily addressed with protocol. The thin walls of Towson High’s trailers, Steger said, are made of wood. Another student in the crowd said the trailers “shake if you walk too hard.”

Martin-Knox said the school system has protocol in place for trailers during an emergency. But Steger and a senior in the audience both said they had never learned them.

Steger said active shooter drills now are scheduled at the discretion of the principal – a student who is inside for a drill may not know what to do if they are in a trailer during an emergency. She wants every student who has a class in a trailer to be trained in what to do.

But eventually, parents said they want to see an end to trailers at Towson High — a demand that would involve alleviating the overcrowding that plagues the school with a new building, an addition or by redistricting students.

“Trailer equals failure,” said Hope’s mother, Heather Steger, adding that taxpayers should be willing to pay to alleviate the overcrowding that pushes students into portable classrooms.

“What’s more important to anybody here other than our children?” Heather Steger asked. “I don’t want someone else’s kids to die because we’re not doing our jobs as parents.”

Multiple elected officials attended the event, held just days before the midterm election. But Hope Steger told them she did not want to hear empty promises – she wants action.

“I’d only like a promise if I know it’s going to be kept,” Steger said.

asolomon@baltsun.com

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