More still needed on Harford school security [Editorial]

The Aegis

Harford County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Sean Bulson has said on several occasions that the safety, security and mental well-being of the 38,000 HCPS students and 5,000 employees is his and the community’s first priority. He said so again during a budget work session Tuesday evening.

Recently, another important milestone in making our schools safer and more secure was announced with the selection of the 14 Harford County Sheriff’s Office deputies who will be assigned to county middle and high schools on a permanent basis.

According to the announcement from the Sheriff’s Office, the new SROs are in training and should be “in their new schools in early December,” which means they will likely be deployed ahead of the schedule announced earlier this year when Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler and former HCPS superintendent Barbara Canavan, who retired in July, announced the joint effort to expand and fund the SRO program to all 10 public middle schools.

“Over the past 20 years, we have witnessed the benefits of having deputies assigned to high schools. Those deputies are able to work directly with the students, build positive relationships, offering not only an authority figure, but also a role model,” Gahler said in a statement. “We know that during adolescence, students are more susceptible to poor life choices and the SRO is a critical member of the school community to help our young people in their journey to adulthood.”

“I sincerely wish that we were at a different point in time where these measures were not necessary, but we cannot ignore the fact that schools have become a target for violence,” Gahler added. “It is because of that urgency, and the commitment to safety of our students, that I am proud to announce we were able to meet our goal early and have the SROs in the schools ahead of schedule.”

Those of you who regularly read editorials in The Aegis and The Record know our position is that police officers are needed in every public and private school in Harford County. In other words, we believe the countywide model should hew to that of the City of Havre de Grace, where the mayor and city council decided several years ago to give the police department enough funds to place an officer in the high school, middle school and the city’s two elementary schools.

Our position hasn’t changed. We recognize there have been arguments made that it might not be wise to have armed officers in an elementary school, one we continue to reject on the grounds it’s essentially an excuse not to have to spend additional dollars annually to protect our youngest students and those charged with educating them.

Our position has angered some people, including the sheriff on occasion, but we’ll say it once again: If we can pay people daily to provide security in the Harford County Courthouse in Bel Air, the County Council building and chambers and the county administrative building, we can afford to put a police officer in every one of the 55 or so public and private school buildings.

How the county and state and municipal governments and the respective police agencies – and the school officials – work out the funding is up to them. The bottom line is this, as Sheriff Gahler so eloquently puts it: “We cannot ignore the fact that schools have become a target for violence,” to which we would add: Regardless of the age of the students.

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