Superintendent calls for vigilance, precautions

Letter from Carol S. Parham

April 25, 1999

An open letter to the citizens of Anne Arundel County from Carol S. Parham, superintendent of Anne Arundel County schools:

For me, and for other adults and young people across the country, the incident which occurred in Littleton, Colorado, this past Tuesday was so very troubling. And although this is the latest and certainly the most horrible incident to occur in a school, we know that right here in our own county, children die as a result of crime and drugs and depression. We are not immune to the societal forces affecting our country's young people.

In recent days, as I spoke with my staff, and with principals and parents and members of the community, their first question was, "What are we doing in our own public schools to prevent such an incident?" During one of those conversations, someone commented that, "you cannot prevent evil, but you can strive to prevent the conditions leading to evil." I certainly agree with that observation, and that is why for some time now Anne Arundel County Public Schools have had a zero tolerance policy for assault and weapons in our schools.

Last year, responding to incidents across the country and our own awareness of today's society, we began to work with local law enforcement agencies and emergency personnel to formulate a Critical Incident Response Plan for Schools. The plan is a system-wide approach to dealing with just the kind of incident that has occurred in Colorado.

At the same time, each school in Anne Arundel County has its own individualized crisis response plan, tailored to the unique needs of the school.

Many things occurred this week within our school system as a result of the events in Colorado. On the day after the incident, with the help of the two associate superintendents and the assistant superintendent, I spoke with every school principal by phone. While I had many reasons to make these calls, most importantly I wanted to communicate our support and willingness to help them as they saw fit. I also wanted to remind them to review their own crisis plans, to continue to be alert to everything in their schools, and to be sure that counselors and psychologists were available to address any student or staff needs at this time. They were also reminded to continue their vigilance in communicating with parents and law enforcement authorities.

Over the last few days, numerous citizens have called my office to offer suggestions as to how school security might be enhanced. We are examining each of these ideas seriously. In addition, I am pleased to report that we have established a special toll-free number to be used exclusively as a "tip line" for students, parents, and community members. This line will be operable beginning April 28.

By calling this number, individuals may choose to remain anonymous in reporting concerns and/or information about disturbing events or activities going on in the schools, rumors of potentially dangerous incidents, or community disturbances which may "spill over" into the schoolhouse. (Obviously, those individuals wishing to identify themselves or request a return call will be able to leave a name and phone number.)

We already have many programs and services in place which are geared toward creating safe environments in our schools. Examples include conflict resolution, peer mediation, individualized success plans, parenting programs, in-school suspension programs, and the "no put-downs" program. We are constantly reviewing current programs and exploring new initiatives to address the critical issue of safety in our schools. And we will continue to do so.

However, sometimes it is difficult to convince the public of our need for resources to help in this area. We need more counselors in our schools; we need more student advocates; we need more psychologists and social workers and pupil personnel workers. And yet, we are often ridiculed for asking for these positions because they are viewed as "extras."

This is a problem which crosses all socioeconomic levels and defies definition on the basis of race or gender or ability levels of students. So in the aftermath of this tragic event in Colorado, I would appeal to the entire community to pay attention. What happened to Colorado can happen today or tomorrow anywhere.

This is not just an issue which has its genesis in the schoolhouse. It is an issue involving our entire community, parents and non-parents alike.

We must look at our roles in making a difference in the lives of children. We must talk to our children and be vigilant in watching them as they grow into young adults. And we must remember to look out for all children, not just our own, because the behavior of any child can impact others.

Let me say that our thoughts and our prayers are with the many individuals in Colorado and elsewhere whose lives were changed forever in a schoolhouse characterized by one young woman as "a place which should be safe to go."

Pub Date: 4/25/99

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