Senate Bill (SB) 1265—Maryland’s Safe to Learn Act of 2018—is now calling on all public middle and elementary schools to have a school resource officer (SRO) in place or plans for schools to be provided with adequate law enforcement coverage by the first day of classes—Sept. 3.
“We are well ahead of the curve,” said Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins about Frederick County Public Schools’ (FCPS) adequate law enforcement coverage. “We have been doing this for years. Most jurisdictions have not.”
The Safe to Learn Act creates a variety of statewide standards and guidelines.
This legislation came in response to the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history when in
February 2018 a gunman opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle and killed 17 students and staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida; another 17 were injured. Our state lawmakers realized the enormous need to keep Maryland kids safe.
SROs are law enforcement officers assigned to a school in agreement between a local law enforcement agency and a local school system. FCPS works with local law enforcement officials—members of the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office (FCSO) and Frederick City Police—to ensure the safety of Frederick County students.
During Jenkins’ entire tenure, he has worked with FCPS to have one SRO present at every high school. The FCSO, Frederick City Police, and Brunswick Police Department are currently working together to keep students safe.
There are deputies who are on patrol throughout various Frederick County neighborhoods; they will have the task of visiting all FCPS feeder schools to monitor all activity there and respond to any problems.
Jenkins, along with Scott Blundell, FCPS security and emergency management supervisor, believes “adequate coverage” is in place at FCPS. There will be added deputy sheriffs during school days on Frederick County streets—directed by the sheriff—to stop by schools to look around; simply, the visibility of patrol cars can deter criminal activity.
At this time, the FCSO does not have the manpower to put an SRO at all 67 public schools in the county. “It would take years to do this,” Jenkins said.
Two high schools—Urbana High School and Tuscarora High School—will get additional coverage. Both schools will now have two SROs manning their locations.
“There were no additional problems for Urbana,” said Jenkins about placing a second SRO at UHS. “It is just about the volume of students.” A partnership established with the Brunswick Police Department will bring an officer there to Urbana to aid in school safety. “If everybody stays involved, we all can work together to achieve success,” added Jenkins.
Because of its growing number of problems, Tuscarora also has a second SRO in place this school year.
The Safe to Learn Act now mandates special training for SROs; this is a new dynamic for public schools. There is a model training program that is based on a particular approved curriculum for SROs to take part in that must be completed by Sept. 1, 2019. “This is all done,” said Jenkins. “All of ours have it.”
All of the SROs are fully trained officers from the FCSO. “They have had specific SRO training, so they are fully sworn deputy sheriffs,” added Jenkins about the elevated training to prioritize school safety and prevent any crimes from taking place.
SROs’ responsibilities mimic those of police officers: They can make arrests, respond to service calls, and document incidents occurring within their jurisdiction. Once trained, they are assigned to a school full-time.
Blundell said SROs have been present at FCPS schools since 2000. He talks with local law enforcement officials several times each day to check up on area schools, and he praises their close relationship.
Blundell agrees with Jenkins that FCPS is ahead of the curve when it comes to school safety; measures have improved, he said, but he knows that there are risks still out there.
“We need to have a presence,” said Jenkins about asking all deputies on the streets and SROs at schools to keep moving around. “This is a big deterrent. Even last year, we made hundreds of additional checks.”
FCPS is taking additional measures to enhance school safety. Schools take part in eight drills during the school year, according to Blundell, such as fire, lockdown, shelter-in-place, environmental, and avoid, deny, and defend drills. Students are taught age-appropriate defense mechanisms.
“We only hold age-appropriate discussions for students,” said Blundell. “We are always evaluating the best way to get away from the threat and get out.”
Blundell said that SROs are a boon to FCPS teachers and students; they give presentations on critical issues relating to teen safety, and they also mentor students. Blundell sees the SROs as role models for students. When called upon, they are supportive of staff members.
“They teach criminal justice classes and health classes,” he said. “They talk to students about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.”
To adhere to the Safe to Learn Act, FCPS needs all parties working together to ensure its response to any event is in place and successful.
“If we do all of these things, we will make a difference with our organized effort to have a presence,” added Jenkins. “I believe we have the very best staffing and coverage.”
Jenkins would now like to forge a better relationship with Frederick City Police.
“We need everybody’s help,” he said. “It can’t just be the Sheriff’s Office. We need every agency now.”
Despite the upbeat attitudes, local leaders know that there is still a long road ahead and still so much more to be done when it comes to protecting kids from violence on campuses.
“Whatever we can do for our presence and visibility is good, but we are never fully 100 percent covered,” concluded Jenkins.