What Is Maryland Doing to Combat Violence in Our Schools?

Kelsey Lear*

On March 20, 2018, a 17-year-old student shot two others at Great Mills High School in St. Mary’s County, Maryland before a school resource officer intervened.  See Eric Levenson, Maryland School Officer Stops Armed Student Who Shot 2 Others, CNN, http://www.cnn.com/2018/03/20/us/great-mills-high-school-shooting/index.html (last updated Mar. 20, 2018, 7:24 PM).  The shooter killed one student and shot one other student before turning the gun on himself.  See Maryland High School Shooting: ‘I Was Just Shot in My School,’ Great Mills Student Says on 911 Call, Balt. Sun (Mar. 27, 2018, 10:50 AM), https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/crime/bs-md-great-mills-911-call-20180327-story.html.  This tragic incident triggered Maryland’s legislature to take swift action against gun violence in schools through the Maryland Safe to Learn Act (MSLA).  See Md. Code Ann., Educ. § 7-1501-12 (West 2018).

I.  The MSLA

In 2018, Maryland’s legislature passed the MSLA which increased funding for safety improvements within schools.  See Md. Code Ann., Educ. § 7-1501-12 (West 2018).  The Maryland school system’s two most significant additions under MSLA include school resource officers and increased mental health services.  See id.  “Because of its ground-breaking nature, [MSLA] may well serve as a model for future school safety laws in other states.”  Annika Bastian, Maryland’s Safe to Learn Act of 2018, Learn Safe (Apr. 29, 2019), https://learnsafe.com/marylands-safe-to-learn-act-of-2018/.  Moreover, the increased funding efforts will include building a Center for School Safety, performing safety evaluations, creating a Safe Schools Fund, making capital improvements, making nonpublic school safety capital improvements, preventing at-risk of hate crimes, and increasing school resource officer funding.  See Karen Salmon, Update on Safe to Learn Act, Md. Pub. Schools 5 (July 24, 2018), http://marylandpublicschools.org/stateboard/Documents/07242018/TabP-SafeLearnAct.pdf.  The Center for School Safety’s responsibilities will include receiving grants to prevent hate crimes, drafting after-action reports to the Governor and General Assembly, assisting schools with detecting signs of relationship violence and prevention, analyzing data regarding the school resource officers, developing guidelines and training for those officers, and consulting with local school systems on safety evaluations.  See id. at 6.  MSLA establishes a School Safety Subcabinet, which administers funds from the School Safety Fund to develop plans for delivering behavioral health services, conducting training of assessment teams and school safety evaluations, establishing formal and anonymous reporting of safety concerns, and conducting outreach to heighten school awareness of existing mental health services.  See id. at 7.  The subcabinet aims to implement the “best practices, technical assistance and comprehensive school safety plan” to adequately prevent and prepare for the worst-case scenarios.  See id. at 8.  MSLA also aims to involve the local school systems by training students and parents on relationship violence and informing the Center for School Safety of critical incidents on school grounds.  See id. at 10.

II.  Report on the MSLA of 2018

On December 20, 2018, the Maryland State Department of Education submitted a Gap Analysis Report that evaluated “the plans for delivering behavioral health and wraparound services to students exhibiting behaviors of concern” and the availability of mental health services and practitioners to address the needs of school-age children in the State.”  Karen B. Salmon, Report on the Maryland Safe to Learn Act of 2018, Md. Dep’t of Health (Dec. 17, 2018) https://mdpsych.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/MSAR-11596-School-Safety-Subcabinet-Behavioral-Gap-Analysis-Report.pdf.  The subcabinet produced a self-report survey that indicated: 7.4% of high school students reported carrying a weapon on school property, 18.2% of high school students reported being bullied, and 29.9% of high school students reported feeling hopeless or sad.  See id. at 4.  Moreover, it found that approximately 22% of school-age students “experience mental health or substance abuse challenges serious enough to require treatment.”  Id.  The report indicates that the majority of community-partnered school behavioral health programs do not provide a full variety of behavioral health services, such as prevention and promotion services.  See id.  Further, these programs do not consistently collect and analyze data on the impact of service provisions at the student and school level.  See id.

III. Other Initiatives: Commission to Study Mental and Behavioral Health in Maryland

Maryland recently enacted an Executive Order titled the “Task Force Bill to Study Behavioral and Mental Health.”  See Commission to Study Mental and Behavior Health in Maryland, Maryland.gov, https://governor.maryland.gov/ltgovernor/commission-to-study-mental-and-behavioral-health-in-maryland/ (last updated Dec. 23, 2019).  The Executive Order tasks the Maryland Commission with studying mental health, “including access to mental health services and the link between mental health issues and substance use disorders.”  Commission to Study Mental and Behavioral Health in Maryland, Md. Psychiatric Soc’y (last updated Jan. 19, 2019), https://mdpsych.org/2019/01/commission-to-study-mental-and-behavioral-health-in-maryland/.  This Executive Order is not aimed specifically at Maryland public schools, instead it will cover mental health and substance abuse disorders concerning Maryland hospitals.  See House Bill 783-Task Force to Study Behavioral and Mental Health in Maryland Position: Support, Md. Hosp. Ass’n, https://www.mhaonline.org/docs/default-source/position-papers/2019/house-bills/hb-783-task-force-to-study-behavioral-and-mental-health-in-maryland.pdf?sfvrsn=a392d40d_2 (last visited Jan. 17, 2020).  Maryland’s health and policy leaders are challenging health care providers to ensure they deliver “efficient, effective, high-quality care.”  Id.

IV.  Pending Legislation: The Guidelines on Trauma-Informed Approach Bill

The Guidelines on Trauma-Informed Approach Bill passed the House of Delegates and is pending in the Senate Education, Health & Environmental Affairs Committee.  See H.B. 256, Gen. Assemb., 439th Sess. (Md. 2019).  This bill requires the Maryland State Department of Education to develop guidelines on a trauma-informed approach to assist schools in implementing a comprehensive trauma-informed policy.  See id.  A trauma-informed school is one that recognizes the signs and systems of trauma in students, teachers, and staff, while actively engaging in policies to appropriately respond.  See id.  If enacted, the Maryland State Department of Education must select one rural school, one suburban school, and one urban school to participate in the program and receive incentive training on this new approach.  Id.

V.  Conclusion

Unfortunately, Maryland schools continue to face gun-related violence and safety concerns.  In February of 2019, a 25-year-old man shot a staff member at Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore.  See Jayne Miller & Kate Amara, Man Charged in Shooting of Frederick Douglass High School Staffer, WBALTV11, https://www.wbaltv.com/article/frederick-douglass-high-school-shooting/26253532 (last updated Feb. 10, 2019, 5:14 PM).  While no students were involved or injured, the incident occurred on campus and echoes the need for increased safety measures in schools.  See id.  The Maryland Legislature’s recent and upcoming initiatives to increase school funding will combat violence in Maryland schools.

*Kelsey Lear is a second-year day student at the University of Baltimore School of Law, where she is a staff editor for the Law Review, Vice President of the Criminal Law Association, and a member of the Royal Graham Shannonhouse III Honor Society. Kelsey currently serves as a research assistant for Professor Donald Stone and as a judicial intern for Judge Douglas Nazarian on the Court of Special Appeals, and will soon join Rollins, Smalkin, Richards & Mackie, L.L.C. as a summer associate.


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