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“Every student deserves to go to school without fearing for his or her safety,” Congressman Steny Hoyer said as he opened a roundtable discussion on Wednesday to discuss school safety with Charles County Public Schools (CCPS) students.

The Congressman was at St. Charles High School March 28 to conduct two, hour-long roundtables to learn what CCPS students, staff and parents think about school safety and how to make schools safer.

Hoyer talked first with students who said they want more school resource officers in their hallways, additional counselors, easy access to mental health care, better preparation during emergency drills and consideration of metal detectors. “We need to know our thoughts and prayers are turning into action,” said Drew Carter, student member to the Board of Education, who kicked off the student comments. He said there should be more school resource officers in high schools, making coverage more proportionate to the student population.

Hoyer took copious notes during the roundtable as students expressed what might make them feel safer at school. He heard their angst over the rise in mass shootings across the nation and the unnerving effect of a fatal shooting at Great Mills High School in neighboring St. Mary’s County.

Mateo Cortez, a La Plata High School senior, said he likes the school system’s focus on See Something, Say Something, but it is important to have additional school counselors and psychologists available to talk with students on a personal level and beyond academics. Cortez said his guidance counselor’s schedule is packed with helping people get into college and working on transfers. Students also suggested providing mental health awareness training for teachers as another layer of support for students.

Students expressed a need for better emergency drills. “Drills help to an extent,” said Kristin McAlpine of St. Charles High School, but said students don’t always take them seriously and the drills are often held during the same class. Riley Simpson of Maurice J. McDonough High School asked leaders to take a closer look at the layout of schools, especially open-space schools like McDonough, that present unique security and safety challenges. In a second roundtable with teachers, staff and parents, Courtney Abell, an English teacher at McDonough, also talked about the need for better security in schools with few walls and doors.

Student opinions on metal detectors varied, but many feel they would be beneficial. Leasia Parker of Westlake High School said she thinks metal detectors can stop crime before it begins. Jonathon Moss of St. Charles agrees with placing metal detectors at schools and said officials sometimes focus too much on the image of schools rather than safety. “We shouldn’t worry about how it looks,” Moss said.

When Superintendent Kimberly Hill asked students to weigh in on the suggestion of arming teachers, Henry E. Lackey High School’s Kaitlyn Willett replied, “I feel like that’s an awful idea.” Other students said they might be open to the idea if a teacher was highly trained and had experience using a firearm.

Teachers, staff and parents joined Hoyer during a second roundtable, and echoed many of the students’ concerns. They see a need for more mental health training for staff, additional resource officers and funding for facility enhancements, including constructing secure entry ways at all schools and adding walls and doors in open space schools.

Parents said there is a need for more parental involvement; teachers talked about discipline issues, including the need for early intervention for young children with severe behavior and emotional problems. Additionally, the group raised concerns about safety in modular classrooms and on school buses.

A majority of the ideas, issues and concerns brought forth by the students, parents and staff were underlined with the topic of funding. North Point junior Jay Acevedo expressed, while talking about the benefits of metal detectors, that they come with a high cost, but spending the money “would be better than losing a life.”

Hoyer closed out the roundtables saying young people are changing the tenor of the school safety debate. He said it is sad that so many students don’t feel safe in school and that teachers worry about the possibility of having to protect their students from an active shooter.

“There is no higher priority than student safety,” Hoyer said.

To watch the complete roundtable discussion, visit the Charles County Public Schools website at http://www.ccboe.com/ccboetv/?videoscategory=special-programs.

About CCPS

Charles County Public Schools provides 26,900 students in grades prekindergarten through 12 with an academically challenging education. Located in Southern Maryland, Charles County Public Schools has 36 schools that offer a technologically advanced, progressive and high quality education that builds character, equips for leadership and prepares students for life, careers and higher education.

The Charles County public school system does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or disability in its programs, activities or employment practices. For inquiries, please contact Dr. Patricia Vaira, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 Coordinator (students) or Nikial Majors, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 coordinator (employees/ adults), at Charles County Public Schools, Jesse L. Starkey Administration Building, P.O. Box 2770, La Plata, MD 20646; 301-932-6610/301-870-3814. For special accommodations call 301-934-7230 or TDD 1-800-735-2258 two weeks prior to the event.