Parents in Baltimore County held a “stop school violence” rally to bring attention to school brawls after the district pushed back on claims they are not doing enough to hold students accountable.
Viral videos of fights in Baltimore County schools have concerned parents in recent weeks. In one recent video from inside Owings Mills High School, several teachers were caught in the middle of a group of students exchanging blows. Students also captured cell phone video of a massive brawl at Lansdowne High School. When the school’s principal tried to break up the altercation, he was attacked, according to Fox 45.
“We were hoping this year would be a better, more stable environment within the schools, but the issues are persistent as evidenced by the extremely disturbing videos,” Baltimore County Parent and Student Coalition President Amy Adams told Fox News Digital.
“It’s to the point where it’s out of control,” Darren Badillo, a member of Baltimore County Parent and Student Coalition, told Fox 45.
“The group that came out to the rally last evening was small but very concerned and engaged,” Adams said of Tuesday’s rally.
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Badillo said he counted 23 incidents in total in school last year. This year, he’s already up to at least 18, according to Fox 45.
Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent Darryl Williams rejected claims about violence being the norm in Baltimore schools as “categorically false,” saying violence is down 11% overall from this time last year.
“The intolerable actions of 8.2 percent of students who have engaged in fights and other aggressive behaviors this school year create the impression that violent behavior is the norm and accepted in our schools, and that there are no consequences for aggressive behavior,” Williams said in a letter sent home to students and staff. “That is categorically false.”
Williams outlined what he described as “significant investments in proactive safety measures” the school system has taken this year. Those investments, he wrote, include hiring more than 150 student safety assistants for secondary schools, increasing the number of counselors, and assigning additional school resource officers. They also include developing new safety guidelines for athletic events, updating transportation procedures and expectations – including the process for bus drivers to report disruptive and dangerous behaviors – and revising the Student Handbook and Code of Conduct.
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The school district has held virtual meetings with the community to discuss the growing issue, but parents like Badillo said that’s not enough.
“We need to stop with these virtual meetings,” he said. “You know, the pandemic is over. You know, the public needs to be and they want to come together.”
Asked how the school system has responded to their concerns, Adams said much was left to be desired.
“The school system’s responses to this point have been minimal,” Adams said. “They attempt to dismiss our concerns as a ‘false narrative’ and use data to show that incidents are decreasing but we hear from staff that many incidents are not documented so how accurate is the tracking data? They held a series of Virtual Town Halls last year (2021-22) and again on October 13, 2022. Why virtual?”
Adams said there was some “good news,” however, saying that at Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting, multiple board members mentioned their concerns in their closing comments and the board vowed to include school safety on the BOE Legislative Priorities, which is sent to elected officials prior to the General Assembly Session beginning in January 2023.
Baltimore city leaders and school officials announced a new violence intervention program Tuesday that will try to train students on how to solve conflicts peacefully, the Baltimore Sun reported.
The program, launching in January at Mergenthaler Vocational Technical (Mervo), Carver Vocational Technical and Digital Harbor high schools, will rely on “credible messengers” in schools, at each grade level, who will be able to relate to students and be trained in mediation and de-escalation, Shantay Jackson, director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, said.
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Jackson said there were 19 arrests and 372 suspensions last year related to violence at those three schools. During the first week of the school year, Baltimore police arrested a student accused of fatally shooting Mervo High School football player Jeremiah Brogden. Weeks later, a student was shot outside Carver High School, WBALTV reported.
Outside Baltimore, in June a high school teacher at Thomas Stone High School in Waldorf had to be flown to a trauma center after being thrown against a set of lockers during fighting between multiple students in which books, chairs and desks were thrown at each other. The 40-year-old female lost consciousness during the assault.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan called the tense situation inside schools “outrageous” and suggested one solution is to hire more school resource officers.
“It’s outrageous,” Hogan said. “We put hundreds of millions of dollars into the schools specifically for school resource officers.”
“So, is that the answer? We need more school resource officers?” a FOX 45 reporter asked.
“I think we do,” he answered.
The Baltimore County Parent and Student Coalition said their ultimate goal was to make students feel more comfortable in the classroom.
“Our point is that the children should not be getting to the point of beating each other up in the hallways. How can we intervene prior to that occurring? They need clear standards of conduct, clear consequences, and a stable and predictable learning environment. They should not be on the edge of their seat worried about what is going to happen next-when the go to the bathroom, when they are walking in the hall, etc.”