As the first week of school drew to a close, parents, educators and other Frederick County leaders were already talking about school safety.
Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins and former school board member Colleen Cusimano led a discussion Thursday night with about 20 attendees.
“This came about because of a conversation that Sheriff Jenkins and I had about fights happening in schools that were being posted online,” said Cindy Stickline-Rose, one of the main organizers of the event and a former candidate for the Board of Education.
There is at least one school-resource officer in each Frederick County high school, and most work their way throughout the middle and elementary schools in the high school’s feeder pattern during the day.
Jenkins said one of the main focuses is building relationships between the deputy and their assigned school in order to maximize security.
“We have deputies that want to have that job,” Jenkins said. “And they want to protect your kids.”
But Jenkins made it clear at the forum that the deputies and school system play different roles and that it is important for everyone “to stay in their lane.”
“We are not there to handle administrative disciplinary issues,” Jenkins said, and further explained that his deputies are present at schools for when an incident crosses a line and becomes a criminal act.
He also pointed out that the SROs have no authority over whether a child is suspended or expelled; that is at the discretion of the school administration.
Cusimano spoke about bullying, ways to prevent it and how parents can be more involved with their kids.
“Conflict between children is not uncommon,” Cusimano said. “Everybody doesn’t have to be friends ... but we do have to be respectful.”
She also encouraged parents to reduce the amount of time their children spend with technological devices such as cellphones and tablets, as social media can play a large factor in bullying.
“I think our kids are experiencing something very different today. ... They are being bombarded with things at a young age ... and peer competition comes into that,” she said.
Mary Posey, a longtime educator and parent of three children who graduated from FCPS, attended the forum and agreed.
“The presence of social media in today’s world — I think that has an effect on our students, the online bullying and so on,” Posey said.
However, she also said she knows the school system is doing all it can and was surprised to hear some of the statistics Jenkins read.
“For the number of high schools we have and to hear [Jenkins’] statistics on how many fights there are, that’s not bad for a whole year, if you ask me,” Posey said. “I’m very proud of the work that our school system does. It’s not a perfect situation. It never will be ... but we do what we can.”
The statistics Posey was referring to are the number of reported assaults and drug-related incidents on school property responded to by the sheriff’s office.
According to Jenkins, in the 2018-2019 school year, there were 59 reported assaults at FCPS high schools. These could be incidents between students, students and teachers, or students and an SRO.
Additionally, last school year there were 50 reports of controlled dangerous substances (CDS), compared with 28 the previous year. However, the spike, according to Jenkins, was due to vaping — inhaling vapor through a battery-operated device such as an e-cigarette — becoming classified as a CDS by the school system.
The topic of school shootings also came up, and many parents asked how schools could become more secure.
Jenkins said both the sheriff’s office and FCPS are working to make improvements, but added that it’s impossible to make a building completely secure due to a variety of factors.
Shawna Capotosto, a parent of a former FCPS student, said she learned a lot from the forum but now wants to see some action and improvements from the school system.
“I believe that the school needs to be a safe environment, that children can’t learn if they can’t feel safe,” Capotosto said. “I thought there was a lot of good information shared and I think there was some great suggestions that I would love to see the BoE implement.”