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Safety, security an issue for many Montgomery students

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Local,Leah Fabel

At least one in four students at 25 Montgomery County public middle and high schools did not agree last year with the statement "I feel safe at school."

And at 32 of the county's 63 middle and high schools, at least half of the students did not agree with the statement "My things are safe in this school."

The annual student surveys are a part of the district's recently released "School Safety and Security at a Glance."

At the high school level, 12 of 25 schools had at least 75 percent of students feeling unsafe, up from 11 schools in 2007-08. Only three schools -- Potomac's Winston Churchill, Bethesda's Walter Johnson, and Poolesville High -- had more than half of its students reporting that their belongings were safe, down from four schools the year before.

"Where kids are feeling unsafe, it has more to do with bullying than anything else," said school board member and former Principal Judy Docca. "It's imperative to work with kids to let them know that they're not a weenie if they tell an adult when they see bullying going on."

And in dealing with potential theft, Docca said that students must be vigilant in locking their lockers and watching their things -- especially as they carry iPods, cell phones and pricey calculators.

Some of the 2008-09 figures at the middle school level improved from the year before.

In 2007-08, 14 middle schools met both criteria: At least 25 percent of students did not feel safe personally, and at least 50 percent did not feel as though their belongings were safe. In 2008-09, that number dropped to nine middle schools.

Five of the county's middle schools saw student reaction worsen on both counts: Silver Spring's Francis Scott Key, Col. E. Brooke Lee, and White Oak middles, Rockville's Cabin John middle, and Montgomery Village middle. The biggest improvements were seen at Silver Spring's Argyle and Takoma Park, and at Germantown's Neelsville middle.

Docca attributes the changes to the school system's implementation of a "positive behavior management" system, recommended statewide several years ago to stem a growing problem with bullying. The system, which has started in elementary and middle schools, trains teachers in how to deal with misbehaving students in more constructive ways than removing them from the classroom, and trains students in seeing themselves as a member of the school community with responsibilities to others.

lfabel@washingtonexaminer.com

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