MCPS has experienced a sudden increase in violence over this past year. While many of these incidents have been controlled by school administration, many are questioning what larger governmental bodies, such as the Montgomery County Council, are doing to ensure this problem doesn’t become a constant occurrence.
Montgomery County Councilmember Will Jawando is an outspoken member of the MCPS community, specifically on issues relating to students and violence. While there were many changes over the past year, he doesn’t think this spike in violence is attributed to one of the more controversial moves by MCPS, the removal of SROs from schools.
“No, I don’t,” the councilmember said matter-of-factly. “[It’s] a result of a lot of different things, chief among them is the almost two years of dealing with COVID, not being in school, and all the trauma that’s happened. Trama, anxiety, stress, and mental health challenges… you’re seeing that play out.”
Many MCPS students have seen the newly implemented social emotional learning lessons as less than helpful. Councilmember Jawando explains that these changes, as well as the gradual addition of emotional support staff, should have been introduced earlier, before the social injustice spike over the past year and a half.
“We’ve underinvested for years in the social, emotional and mental health supports that students and all people need to deal with conflict in a productive way,” he added. “The things like counselors and psychologists and therapists and social workers and restorative justice practitioners.”
Councilmember Jawando hopes these outbursts can be handled with a “multi-faceted approach” with a focus on methods of prevention. Funding restorative justice practices within schools will be a large part of that.
“If you’re only just dealing with the consequence, you’re not really solving the problem,” the councilmember explained. “Why are people having conflict? We know there’s systemic racism, so how is that being manifested, and how has this moment we’re in made it worse? How do we heal that? How do we get to those folks before it escalates?”
This is a progression that will take a lot of coordination between the many working parts in the school system. From bus drivers and security guards to school nurses and counselors, ideally any adult in the building can notice signs of a developing conflict and begin de-escalation before it starts.
The Council is working with the MCPS to make sure progress is being made in these resource-based solutions. Hiring more professionals in order to have them be single-focus—such as counselors who focus on emotional support and aren’t preoccupied with college help as well—is a main focus to ensure that violence can be prevented.
As complicated as it may sound, Councilmember Jawando summarized the county’s approach to manage violence simply: “When there is conflict, get to why it happened and make it less likely to happen again… It’s a change we have to [make].”