By JESSICA MACLEOD
BALTIMORE (February 23, 2011) The Maryland State Board of Education approved a statewide model policy Tuesday afternoon in Baltimore to help prevent and deal with gang activity in schools.
The policy states that local school systems must set standard consequences and remedial actions for gang involvement, put in place procedures for reporting and investigating gang activity, provide information for those involved about how to get help, and develop prevention programs.
The state's 24 school systems are responsible for developing policies of their own and submitting them to the board for approval by September 1. If approved, the local policies would go into effect this fall.
"When you actually have gang activity spilling over into the school, and students, some vulnerable students, being recruited into gangs, I think that's a very serious issue. And that's what we're trying to do here is make schools safer," said Charles Buckler, executive director of the Maryland State Department of Education's Division of Student, Family and School Support.
In Buckler's experience meeting with local school system representatives, gang activity is widespread.
"It's evident all over the good state of Maryland, in rural areas, as well as the metropolitan and urban areas," Buckler said.
A diverse workgroup of 45 members put together the proposed policy.
"I was so impressed that on the one hand you have safety officers, but you also brought in ACLU representatives ... it just gave me some confidence that we as a board as we have to approve these policies, that it's based on a really solid analysis that was done by a dedicated group of people," board member James Gates, Jr. said.
Some board members were concerned with the policy's seemingly heavy focus on dealing with gang-related issues after the fact, instead of focusing more on taking preventative steps.
"Those types of things only get at the symptom and don't really go to the root," Board of Education President James DeGraffenreidt, Jr. said.
School systems also have to name someone at each school serving grades 6 to 12 to act as the designated security officer.
Although there are still some issues to consider, Buckler thinks Maryland may be a leader in developing a statewide gang prevention and activity policy.
"When we were putting together our policy, we did some research as far as what exists in other states, and we found very, very little. And we didn't find any policy that was as comprehensive as this one," Buckler said.