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Montgomery County schools report increase in arrests, decrease in calls for service

Police investigate after a student was reported injured in January 2022 at Magruder High School in Montgomery County. (Freddy Kunkle for The Washington Post)
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Montgomery County schools have reported fewer public safety calls for service, but an increase in arrests so far this school year compared with last, system officials told the County Council on Tuesday.

Through March 10, there were 1,329 school service calls and 1,133 resulted in a report being filed. Calls for service are requests for assistance made to law enforcement, medical and fire officials. At the same time last year, the school system had reported 2,814 calls for service and 1,170 reports made. The data includes requests for both emergency and non-emergency situations, school officials said.

However, there have been 13 arrests this school year, compared with three arrests in the 2021-22 school year. Fifteen cases have been referred to the Department of Juvenile Services, compared with 39 referrals last school year. There have been zero citations this school year for marijuana possession, compared with two citations last year.

“What’s clear is that more needs to be done. … We need to be open to all and every solution that’s out there,” said council member Gabe Albornoz (D-At Large).

The data was shared at a joint meeting between Montgomery County’s Education and Culture Committee and Public Safety Committee. Council members also questioned school and police officials about the community engagement program and the updated relationship with police that allows officers to have a limited, but not permanent, presence in schools and still respond to incidents. Last school year, Montgomery County Public Schools removed school resource officers, or SROs, from school grounds, but after a shooting at a Rockville high school critically injured a student, the school system and the Montgomery County Police Department reached an agreement for the revised setup. The agreement stipulates that school officials, not police, respond to discipline and policy issues.

But some parents and educators have argued for a full return of police in schools to combat rising violence. As council members reviewed the data, some members of the audience held up signs that read, “Bring Back SROs!”

A county pulled police from schools six months ago. Now it wants to bring them back.

The arrest and referral data does not include breakdowns by race or for students with a disability, noted Will Jawando (D-At Large). “That was a key measure that we talked about tracking with the school system … where that was going to be monitored as a part of the larger process,” he said. Police said they would provide the data.

The school safety report also showed an increase in school-based incidents that show a bias toward a race, religion or other identity, such as incidents of antisemitism. The school system reported 100 incidents so far this school year, compared with 65 during the entire previous academic year. In February alone, there were 42 incidents. Forty-five of the incidents occurred at middle schools, 35 at the county’s high schools and 20 at elementary schools.

Of the bias incidents, 48 targeted race, 43 targeted religion and 15 targeted the LGBTQ community.

The school system recently announced it would toughen penalties for students who commit acts of hate by recording the incidents in their student file, and their parents will be brought in for follow-up conversations.

Montgomery County schools report another spate of antisemitic acts

School officials also presented suspension data that showed higher numbers particularly for students with disabilities and students of color. Data from the 2021-22 school year showed there were 2,392 suspensions total. Black students were suspended the most — 1,077 times total, according to data in a state report. There were a total of 889 Hispanic student suspensions and 739 suspensions for students with a disability. Meanwhile, White students were suspended 197 times and Asian students had 80 suspensions. There was no suspension data provided for this school year.

Shauna-Kay Jorandby, the district’s director of student engagement, behavioral health and academics, said the school system is reviewing its disciplinary training for conduct violations and working to build relationships with students who have higher numbers of suspensions. “We must always acknowledge that we must continue to work on the disparities within our suspensions,” she said.

School officials also discussed efforts being undertaken to discipline students without removing them from school.

Council members asked police and school officials to return before June with more information about what incidents led to those student arrests this school year, as well as race and ethnicity breakdowns of arrest and referral data.