The blunt talk included in the letter to the Worcester County Board of Education from State’s Attorney Kristin Heiser and Sheriff Matt Crisafulli should be concerning.
The letter was a call for change in the way the school system handles behavior and the reporting of incidents as well as a general order to the school board and administration to get more involved with individual school management and mandate compliance with a heightened level of enforcement.
To be clear, the tone and content in the three-page letter is alarming and paints a disturbing scene with the manner in which the school system is cooperating – or lack thereof – with authorities. The letter alleges illegal noncompliance with state law on reporting student and school safety violations, calling out the school system for not adequately working with authorities to combat “the rising crime within our schools and to ably protect students and school personnel.”
Furthermore, the letter states, “we are in possession of evidence proving that there have been and continue to be repeated, and at times intentional, violations of Maryland state law by school officials in failing to notify law enforcement of criminal misconduct and delinquent acts occurring within Worcester County Public Schools. We would like to provide the Board and legal counsel with this evidence privately and outside of the presence of school officials, in a closed special session. It is our great hope that once we have met and provided you with the facts and evidence surrounding our concerns, that you will enact and enforce policies requiring school officials to work with us, so that law enforcement can meet its obligation to full protect everyone in our schools.”
These sorts of critical, accusatory letters do not happen often, and the accusations dated in the letter dated Sept. 21 deserve immediate attention. This is not a time to be defensive. It’s a time to be corrective and constructive. Gross misjudgment and blatant misrepresentations must have been made to justify a letter of such intensity.
We have full confidence the school system will get this right and make the immediate changes in policies and directives. We agree when the authorities’ letter states, “students and teachers in Worcester County have the absolute right to be free from the disruption, distraction, violence, trauma and fear caused by crime occurring within our schools.” The school system needs to do better in protecting this right.
We have confidence the school system will make immediate changes and carry out the statement by Board of Education President Todd Ferrante, who said, “school system leadership is investigating those concerns” and will soon follow up with a more expansive statement once the letter’s allegations are investigated.
It’s clear there are individual judgments about the management of incidents within specific schools that deserve criticism. It’s horrifying to read in the letter the following: “The current operation … does not prioritize student and school safety in a meaningful and practical manner.” We do not believe there is an umbrella of covert intentions to hide the severity of incidents within schools, such as teachers being assault and teens fighting. However, it’s clear wrongs have been committed and it must change immediately.
There’s an irony to individual school decision makers needing to be educated further on the new public safety rules and policies for managing their students. More training is evidently needed because it’s intolerable to think early attempts to inform and bring awareness to a new level of public safety were either not digested at the best or ignored at the worst.
A partnership is only as good as the parties involved and at this point there is no trust. The school system appears to have lost the trust of the responding law enforcement agency (Sheriff’s Office) and the criminal prosecution team (State’s Attorney’s Office). Immediate, corrective action must take place and examples must be provided as to what has changed.