It Can’t Happen Here?

It Can’t Happen Here?

Weast, School Board and community members collaborate on safety measures after two killings after county football games.

Kanisha Neal, a 15-year-old Rockville High School student, was stabbed to death after a football game at James H. Blake High School on Friday, Sept. 23. It was the second consecutive Friday night that somebody was killed after a Montgomery County football game — Stephone Wiggins, a 23-year-old Germantown man, was killed in a fight after a football game at Seneca Valley on Sept. 16.

Fred Evans has two children in Thomas S. Wootton cluster schools, and he senses that many others in the area believe “it can’t happen here.”

“Denial is not just a river in Egypt; it happens in our community,” Evans said.

“We feel that the safety of all county students is at risk,” said Sarah Biceglie, student council president at Sherwood High School, where the suspect in Neal’s stabbing attended. Biceglie said that Sherwood has not had an officer present for the entire school year.

JERRY WEAST, superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools, convened with county officials last weekend after Neal’s stabbing. They agreed on several measures. There will be more of a police presence at county football games this year, the county will push to fill vacant school resource officer positions, and schools will install new lights or cameras if they are deemed necessary.

However, when the county Board of Education met on Monday, Sept. 26, Weast said he wanted to give each county principal leeway in determining appropriate measures, and there will be few county-wide policy changes, such as rescheduling football games.

School Board member Steven Abrams said he was “extraordinarily encouraged by a non-knee-jerk response … recognizing that a heightened sense of awareness has to be balanced with a continuation of normal activities for kids at school.”

“Although it may be tempting, do not go for the easy solutions such as canceling all evening football games,” Evans said when he testified at the School Board meeting.

LAST FEBRUARY police responded to an incident at Fallsgrove Shopping Center, where students from Wootton and Winston Churchill High School were reportedly involved in a 50-person melee after a Wootton-Churchill basketball game. Several students reported that someone wielded a baseball bat in the fight, although no injuries were reported by police.

“That may sound simplistic, but you have to develop a culture with the kids. … Have that avenue open to kids,” Evans said. Administrators should try to develop a rapport in which students feel comfortable telling them what’s going on, and know that their discussions are confidential, Evans said. “Kids want to be safe … except maybe for the kids who want to perpetrate, and there aren’t large numbers of them.”

Weast also stressed that many of these problems are beyond the scope of schools to solve alone. “It’s a matter of all of us … working together as a community to help all of our students,” Weast said.