Montgomery County school officials, alarmed by the stabbing death of a 15-year-old girl after a high school football game Friday, raised a range of options yesterday to improve security at such school events.
The school system will consider adding more police and security officers, recruiting more parents to supervise games and even moving Friday-night matchups to Saturday to avoid the sort of violence that occurred after two games in the past two weeks.
"The county has an obligation to take action quickly," said School Superintendent Jerry D. Weast in a statement after a three-hour meeting of school officials. "Students and their families should be able to enjoy the camaraderie of their neighbors and friends, without the fear that someone will be injured or killed in a fight."
The Montgomery school board is likely to discuss the matter at its meeting tonight -- just three days after Kanisha Neal of Rockville was fatally stabbed in the parking lot at James Hubert Blake High School. And principals expect to take up the topic at a meeting tomorrow.
A 15-year-old Olney girl has been charged with second-degree murder in connection with the attack, which authorities said might have been prompted by a weeks-old episode in which one girl spit on another. Police are not identifying the teenager because she is charged as a juvenile.
On Sept. 16, Stephone Wiggins, 23, of Germantown was attacked in an off-campus fight after a football game at Seneca Valley High School. He later died. Two men have been charged in connection with that incident.
Although police said they do not believe there is a connection between the fights, the timing -- two fatal disputes in eight days -- has concerned many parents.
"When kids go to school activities, you don't expect them to be killed," said Andrea Kline of Silver Spring, whose daughter is a senior at Albert Einstein High School in Kensington. "This wasn't a situation of a kid hanging out in the wrong place at 2 a.m. You don't think when you spit at someone, someone's going to kill you."
"Parents are getting a wake-up call that this is a community problem," said Cindy Kerr, president of the Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations. "You can't box this into any one thing. It's not tied into gangs, it's not tied to just one thing."
Yesterday, school officials worked with principals and staff to coordinate a response at three high schools that are affected: The fight occurred at Blake, the victim was a freshman at Rockville High School and the suspect attended Sherwood High School in Sandy Spring.
Although officials said they do not anticipate further incidents, they arranged for additional police patrols at the Rockville and Sandy Spring campuses.
Blake Principal Carole Goodman will address students today via the school's cable broadcasting system. Students there are also dealing with the one-year anniversary of the death of student Alicia Betancourt in a car accident.
Rockville High Principal Debra Munk will talk with her students, and Sherwood Principal John Yore said he and other staff members will meet with groups of students to share information and answer questions.
A letter also will be sent home to parents at the three campuses.
School system spokesman Brian Edwards said that with seven weeks remaining in the football season -- officials are trying to determine whether additional security measures should be put into place at games.
He said additional security was in place at the Blake game, including four police officers, five administrators, six security team members and as many as 30 faculty members. The campus had arranged for the beefed-up security after several small fights broke out in the parking during a game the previous week against Paint Branch High School.
"We'll be discussing and working with police to make sure we've got good coverage," Edwards said, emphasizing that the incidents tend to happen in the parking lot or off-campus and not during the games.
Edwards said the system also will look for more ways to encourage students -- and parents -- to come forward with information.
"Many times, when we have a fight brewing, students know about it before adults do,'' he said. "It's going to be critical for us to get that information from students."
Parents agreed that they could play a role in making games safer.
"Security has to be stepped up," said Kay Romero of Kensington. "If parents are attending games and see something brewing, they need to step in or notify security. It's sad for kids this young to be involved in an episode like this."
About 10 years ago, the system changed game start times as a way to control late-night crowds. Games in Montgomery start at 6:30 p.m., earlier than those in many systems.
As for solutions, Kerr said the PTA council is interested in working with police and other groups to see what can be done. She said she also wants to hear what school board members say at tonight's meeting.
School board President Patricia O'Neill (Bethesda-Chevy Chase) said it is important for people to not overreact.
"Athletic competition is a wonderful thing -- it builds school spirit," she said. "But obviously, we want to make sure that our athletic competitions are safe for schools and community members."
Staff writer V. Dion Haynes contributed to this report.