Are Worcester County public schools unsafe? No. I’m a parent of a middle school student and I am not worried about his daily safety. I have spoken to many high school parents in recent weeks. While many have specific concerning incidents to share, there is not a perception of a pervasive crime problem in the schools. Concerns do arise, however, when they hear of incidents from their students and there is no report on discipline and investigation outcome. Changes should be made on the communication front. When the proper light is not shined on serious incidents, perceptions arise of officials trying to hide matters.
It’s impossible to discuss the school safety issue without being general. Since school started in September, there have been reports of disturbing behavior situations and altercations inside schools and on buses. These incidents happen in school systems across the country, including in neighboring Wicomico County where a 13-year-old middle school student assaulted a classmate and strangled a female teacher this month.
What must happen moving forward is a rebuilding of trust among the key decision makers. There needs to be a connection between law enforcement and school officials when matters of safety arise. This is a no brainer and why the fracture exists is confusing. It was disturbing to read of law enforcement’s concerns. However, there also exists a divide now as parents are skeptical public safety concerns will be handled appropriately in every school. The only way to address these doubts is through proof of a commitment. When major issues occur, such as a teacher being assaulted or a sex offense on a bus, there must be ramifications. Due to minors being involved, no names need to be used, but the school system should inform the community, at least the families within the individual schools, of a discipline handed down for a specific incident.
It’s hoped the county’s new task force will address ways to communicate with the school community about incidents. It’s a fact disturbing behavior incidents of varying severities take place inside schools. It’s also clear how to handle them is in dispute among the school system, the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office and the State’s Attorney’s Office. The three agencies must get on the same page. Time will tell whether a task force can accomplish the goal of addressing the current, undisputed communication issue.
The school system’s public statement touched on the communication problem but also fired back at a recent letter from State’s Attorney Kris Heiser and Sheriff Matt Crisafulli. In their three-page letter to the school board dated Sept. 21, Heiser and Crisafulli wrote, “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” and “the substantial negative impact of the actions of these school officials on law enforcement’s ability to maintain safe schools, investigate criminal behavior and protect students cannot be overstated.”
In response, the school system’s statement reads, “After spending hours on the issues raised, it is clear that very little can be presently agreed upon between the Sheriff, State’s Attorney, and our Executive Team. This is unfortunate. It is important that everyone understand that it is this Board’s opinion that this is not a matter of “truth” vs. “fiction” but rather a clear breakdown in communication between the Sheriff, State’s Attorney, and school system’s Executive Team. This needs immediate attention and correction.” The statement continues, “This Board does not agree with the characterization that our schools are unsafe or that there has been consistent unreported violence; this is not accurate. … This Board recognizes that there may be different philosophical approaches to school safety but what is clear is that amongst the State’s Attorney, the Sheriff, and Executive Team, there needs to be a greater understanding and appreciation for the role that each partner plays and how the differing approaches can co-exist without their individual roles being hindered and without any laws being broken.”
What’s in the past matters and should be counted on as a learning experience, but it’s what happens moving forward that counts now.
Shoaling in the Inlet has been a problem for decades, and it was a pleasant surprise to see a potential positive on this front. Earlier this year, hopes of a major project were dashed when the Army Corps of Engineers told the county there would be no major project to address the issue. Occasional dredging was the only option, county officials were essentially told.
This week the County Commissioners voted unanimously to send a letter to the state’s federal legislators in support of a new dredging vessel for Maryland. If the state had its own vessel, more dredging opportunities would be available. It will be an expensive endeavor but one that’s needed considering all the water in the state. It’s a worthwhile effort, even if it takes a few years to become reality as it works through the government process.