(March 15, 2019)The Safe Schools Maryland Act of 2019 cleared another hurdle last week as it advanced from the state Senate’s Education, Health and the Environment Committee.
“Keeping our students and all personnel safe in schools is the purpose of this legislation, and the tip line is an important tool to increase school safety,” District 38 Sen. Mary Beth Carozza said in a statement.
“By following-up on calls made on the tip line, we can respond to and prevent future instances of violence and other abuse from occurring in our schools.”
The initiative, sponsored by Gov. Larry Hogan, establishes funding for an anonymous tip line where students, educators or others can report suspicious behavior or possible threats, according to the legislation. The Safe Schools Maryland program would also become part of the Maryland Center for School Safety.
Hogan’s administration first launched a tip line, 1-833-MD-B-SAFE, and mobile app in October 2018.
“We must remain ever vigilant when it comes to protecting our kids, and we are counting on our local school communities, our students, teachers, and parents to work together with us in these important efforts,” Hogan said back in October.
Steve Price, chief safety officer for Worcester County Public Schools, said the district has received roughly three or four calls concerning the “care and well-being and safety for individual students.”
However, Price added the resource could prove invaluable in avoiding a tragedy.
“This tip line provides those individuals to have the opportunity to anonymously provide information to us, which may give us the opportunity to prevent a tragedy from occurring in our school system,” Price said.
Along with himself, the district’s human resource supervisor and a member of sheriff’s office were trained prior to the launch of the tip line.
He said they receive the tips from the Maryland Emergency Management Agency’s line and respond as they deem necessary – whether it’s through notifying the administration or law enforcement.
The legislation has 14 cosponsors in the Senate, and 33 co-sponsors in the House of Delegates.
In addition to Carozza in the Senate, supporters in the house included District 38A Delegate Charles Otto and District 38C Delegate Wayne Hartman.
The cost of the program would be covered by the state’s general fund up to $300,000, according to the legislation. Funding would begin in FY 20 and increase annually.
The funds would go towards personnel training, spreading awareness through literature to students and parents, as well as curriculum training.
Otto acknowledged cost as a potential hurdle for this bill.
“Well, the biggest concern is obviously the cost of implementing something like that,” Otto said.
Hartman said the program’s initial cost could pay long-term dividends.
“If this eliminates one incident, it’s well worth the investment,” Hartman said.
Superintendent Lou Taylor was named School Safety Superintendent of the Year by the Maryland Center for School Safety, according to Carozza’s statement.
“Superintendent Taylor and the entire team at WCPS have gone above and beyond when it comes to keeping our children safe, and the Safe Schools Maryland Act will help us continue our shared mission of keeping our students, school personnel, and all safe in our schools,” Carozza said.
Worcester County has had threats made against schools — Pocomoke High School received a threatening call last February, according to Carrie Sterrs, public information officer for the Worcester County Public Schools — but this and others were not acted on.
Stephen Decatur High School also received a threatening phone call about an explosive device on its campus in 2016, according to Sterrs.
Worcester joined Wicomico and Sussex counties as victims of a hoax that spanned multiple states before a juvenile was arrested.
For Otto, he said had to have a realistic outlook on the need to keep students safe.
“I’d like to hope we’re immune to the problems, but I’m afraid that we’re not, given the other locations that have had issues,” Otto said. “Especially there in St. Mary’s County last June – that was hitting pretty close to home.”
Two people were killed and one hurt in a March 2018 shooting at Great Mills High School in St. Mary’s County.
Price emphasized the importance of the having tip line as a precaution.
“It’s certainly beneficial to us,” Price said. “As everything that has happened across our country in the last several years, including [Marjory Stoneman Douglas] High School and the incident at St. Mary’s County as early as last year, has heightened the need for safety and security within our schools.
Countless school shootings have occurred over the years across the nation: Columbine, Sandy Hook and Parkland, Florida, are just a few of the many chilling events.
Hartman acknowledged that the horrific incidents are all the more reason to take these additiona safety measures.
“I just think it makes Maryland one step closer to a higher level of safety than we’ve had before,” Hartman said. “I ... don’t think we can be overly cautious or take anything for granted.”
For Price, he feels keeping school students safe is of paramount concern for Worcester County in general and the school system in particular.
“It’s just another tool in our toolbox here in Maryland as part of the Maryland Center for School Safety, it provides us the opportunity to once again offer the greatest care and safety and security for our students and staff in our buildings, even here in Worcester County,” Price said.