Parents wary of violence in suburban Washington public schools are stressing the need for more adults on staff to build relationships with students and families.
A study by The Examiner, reported in Thursday’s editions, found that dozens of area middle and high schools experience incidents from fights to fires on a weekly basis. In a handful of schools, violence is a daily concern.
In Montgomery County, where middle schools led the district in suspensions for fights and attacks, the county’s parent teacher organization has supported “more funding of educational facility officers and crossing guards.”
The officers are funded through the police department and divide time among several schools, although many PTA parents would like to see full-time officers in the middle schools.
In addition, the schools have a six-year plan to install more security cameras.
“That’s an improvement, but it can’t take the place of a human being,” said Laurie Halvorson, chairwoman of the county PTA’s safety committee.
Others find reports of violence to be overblown.
“I wouldn’t send my kids to the school if it was unsafe,” said Pam Smith, co-president of the PTA at Alexandria’s George Washington Middle School. Based on data from 2007-08, George Washington had 168 instances of fights or serious personal offenses, more than nearly all schools in the Virginia suburbs.
“High schools have more serious problems. The planning skills of the average middle schooler doesn’t extend to making bombs,” Smith said.
At Centreville High School in Fairfax County, where officials recorded 16 fights or serious incidents last year, PTA President Cathy Moraco worries more about student behavior less visible than fighting.
“Yes, there are some fights — there always have been. But I don’t fear those as much as I fear that kids don’t understand drug use and exposure,” she said.
Phyllis Randall, a mental health therapist for at-risk youth, said school violence often results from students feeling disconnected from their communities. So even the safest communities need to be aware.
“Even if your kids are safe and fine, if the kid down the street is doing things he or she shouldn’t be doing, your kid is somewhat at risk.”