The madness of gun and other violence in the nation’s schools continued last week, this time a little too close to home, as a student at a high school in St. Mary’s County shot a 14-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl, before shooting himself to death after exchanging gunfire with a school resource officer. The girl later succumbed to her injuries.
The resource officer, a member of the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office, has been hailed for his quick response. And, while no one can say conclusively that more injuries or deaths were prevented by his actions, nobody dares suggest they wouldn’t have been prevented. In life or death situations, you err on the side of living.
What we again are seeing, however, is the total lack of an organized and standardized approach to school security, not only in the state and the United States as a whole, but within individual school districts. As we’ve been noting ad nauseam in this space, Harford County Public Schools is no exception.
Our news reporting Friday about how the City of Havre de Grace has seen fit to pay for and assign an armed and uniformed police officer to each of the city’s four public schools, drives that point home once again.
Other than Havre de Grace, only the public high schools and a few middle schools have school resource officers on the premises each school day. Aberdeen Police cover the high and middle schools. In Bel Air, town police rotate a single officer among the high school, middle school and the town’s two elementary schools — also covering a private high school and a private elementary school. The county Sheriff’s Office has deputies assigned to seven high schools and a middle school, none to 28 elementary schools, some which are miles apart.
The recent school shootings in Florida and Maryland prompted Gov. Larry Hogan to call for spending more money on physical improvements to schools to make them more secure from intruders, and to pay for additional officers. As stated previously by The Aegis, we applaud the governor’s effort – which hasn’t yet been acted upon by the legislature – but believe this is not a sufficient amount of money to get the job done.
And throwing money at the problems, where no standard protocols exist about making the schools secure, will likely confuse the situation more than it is already, again without achieving the desired goal of making it so when Maryland students leave for school in the morning, there can be no concern they won’t arrive home safe that afternoon.
In Harford County, both Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler and County Executive Barry Glassman have hedged on the need for a police officer in every high, middle and elementary school, raising the money specter – and, by inference, the possibility taxes might have to be raised to accommodate the hiring of additional officer. We disagree strongly on both counts.
Glassman has given the sheriff millions during his first three budgets to enhance the salaries of the deputies already on the payroll – he’s done the same for school teachers. While we have no quarrel with these expenditures, we also see no reason while some financial resources in the school, sheriff and county budgets can’t be shifted and earmarked for more police in schools. The same goes for the town government in Bel Air and the city government in Aberdeen.
If Havre de Grace, arguably the least wealthy jurisdiction in the county can make that commitment and pay for it, we think the others can and should as well.