By Maryland Senator Roy Dyson
GREAT MILLS, Md. - Near miss. Thank goodness. I am talking about the story in the Calvert County papers just a week ago about an incident at Huntingtown High School in which two students were found with a gun, two knives and ammunition in a backpack.
Thats pretty scary stuff here in Southern Maryland and dispels the myth that it cant happen here.
After hearing from numerous teachers, administrators, parents and community activists, I introduced a bill that would produce a comprehensive Task Force on School Safety that would establish a blue ribbon task force to address violence in our schools, on our busses and on public and private school campuses such as ball fields.
The importance of this task force has become even clearer after a rash of deadly incidents in schools across the nation. St. Marys has a proud Amish community and Im sure they were particularly devastated—as we all were—after the horrific shooting incidents at a one-room Amish School house in Pennsylvania recently.
Last year, the bill died in the House of Delegates after easily passing in the Senate last year. It passed this year and was signed into law by the governor on May 16. Senate President Mike Miller and House Speaker Mike Busch named a member of their respective bodies to the task force in the summer and I was pleased that the governor made his appointments, mandated by the law, after I wrote him a letter earlier this month urging him to expedite the process. One of his appointees is from Southern Maryland, Kathleen Lyon with the St. Marys Public Schools.
According to an earlier column I wrote about this issue: Teachers have reported to me that they have received violent threats from students, but have not come forward to report them due to fear of reprisal. Students are often bullied, harassed and at times, injured or killed on school grounds. The school environment should not be a battleground where students, teachers and other employees are afraid to come to learn and work. If someone in a school fears for their safety, how can they effectively learn or teach?
The task force will be comprised of experts in various fields who are concerned about the issue of school safety. Those who will be sitting on the task force include members of the Senate and House of Delegates, the State Superintendent of Schools or their designee, two representatives of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, four public school teachers from different geographic areas of the state, two parents of public school student, an expert on disabled students a non-public school representative will also be included along with several others. The bill also includes a representative of school bus drivers. I added this amendment to the original bill after The St. Marys Today website allowed bus drivers to express their concerns, fear, frustrations and reports of incidents on their busses that were very disturbing to say the least.
As I have stated earlier, let me clear up a few misconceptions about this bill. It does not mandate officers in schools or call for metal detectors and other draconian proposals. The good aspect of this bill is that it does not mandate anything other than to come up with a comprehensive report on how to make our schools safer and deliver a report of its findings to the governor, the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee.
Typically, after the committees who first heard the bill receive the task forces findings, they develop legislation often recommended by the task force.
I have served on numerous task forces that have done just that and several outstanding bills have come about because the members who I have worked with came to the table with good intentions to find good, common-sense solutions to problems.
Addressing a troubling issue
Something I plan to fight for during the 2007 General Assembly Session is more money for school construction. I am in receipt of a very disturbing letter from Maryland Schools Superintendent Nancy Grasmick.
The report states that as of June 2006, there are 116 trailers on our public school campuses. Of course the bureaucrats at the state board of education dont want to use the word trailers. They call them relocatable classroomswhatever that means. Calvert has slightly less (83) and Charles has 207. I dont believe children should be going to schools in trailers which is why this is an issue that needs to be addressed in the next legislative session.