Worcester School Board Continues To Review Safety Concerns

Worcester School Board Continues To Review Safety Concerns
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NEWARK – The Worcester County Board of Education continues to review the school safety concerns presented last week by local law enforcement.

The school board met in closed session Tuesday, a week after an initial closed session meeting with Worcester County State’s Attorney Kris Heiser, Sheriff Matt Crisafulli and Chief Deputy Nate Passwaters. While the board is expected to meet in closed session again next week, Heiser said law enforcement is waiting for a resolution to the concerns raised.

“We continue to await a meaningful response from the Board which will hopefully include an actionable plan that we can implement immediately,” Heiser said this week. “Prevention of crime in our schools combined with enforcing existing laws creates the level of safety we are looking to provide, and we can’t do that without their full cooperation.”

Education officials, however, indicated they need more time to review the information presented by law enforcement.

“The Worcester County Board of Education held a special closed session meeting this morning to further discuss the school safety matters brought forth in the joint letter from the Worcester County State’s Attorney and Sheriff’s offices,” read a statement from Todd Ferrante, president of the school board, that was issued Tuesday afternoon. “As school safety is of the upmost importance to the Board, we are thoughtfully reviewing both the information previously presented by our law enforcement officials as well as the information presented today from school system leadership. We truly appreciate our school system community’s patience as we examine these matters with the focus and care that it deserves.”

According to Ferrante, the board decided Tuesday to extend the closed session of the regularly scheduled meeting for next Tuesday, Oct. 17, in order to further discuss the school safety issues. According to Ferrante the meeting will begin at 9 a.m. when the board will immediately vote to go into closed session.

“It is my hope that the Board of Education will be able to address our school system community during the regularly scheduled open session, which will begin at 12:30 p.m.,” Ferrante’s statement said. “Again, we thank our community for their patience and understanding as we work toward resolving this matter.”

On Sept. 21, Heiser and Crisafulli sent a letter to the school system outlining serious concerns about the safety of local schools. Law enforcement reportedly have ongoing concerns about the lack of notification they receive from school officials regarding criminal activity in local schools.

The frustration from members of the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office comes in spite of a memorandum of understanding between the sheriff’s office and the school system approved in August. Stipulated in that agreement is that WCPS staff will “promptly report to SRD’s (school resource deputies) all crimes, delinquent acts, and violations of the WCPS Code of Conduct…”

The letter from Heiser and Crisafulli highlights the fact that deputies can’t enforce the law when they’re not notified the law has been broken.

“We were hopeful that this school year would provide a fresh start and a renewed dedication by school officials to safety protocols and mandatory notifications to law enforcement, as outlined in these written guidelines and policies,” the letter reads. “Unfortunately, we continue to witness the ongoing failures in communication and notification, with several violent and disturbing incidents and corresponding lack of notification to law enforcement by school officials, even during these first few weeks of school. It has become quite clear that no progress will be made by school officials without greater involvement and specific direction from the Board of Education, to whom they are directly accountable.”

The letter said there was evidence of repeated violations of Maryland state law by school officials in failing to notify law enforcement of criminal and delinquent acts within schools. Law enforcement said they’d present that evidence to the school system in a private meeting.

That closed session took place Oct. 4. In the wake of that meeting, Worcester County Board of Education President Todd Ferrante said the board was investigating the concerns shared by the county’s law enforcement officials. While he initially indicated he’d be able to release more information this week, the continuation of the latest closed session meeting delayed that.

The Worcester County Board of Education is scheduled to hold its regular open session monthly meeting Tuesday, Oct. 17, at 12:30 p.m.  More information regarding meetings, which are held at the central office in Newark, is available on the school system’s website, worcesterk12.org.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.