Safe Schools Act breaks down communication barrier between schools and courts
By Sara Gates and Patrick Hoover
In March the Maryland House of Delegates unanimously approved the Safe Schools bill, 139-0. The act, which took effect on July 1, seeks to break down the communication barrier between local law enforcement and schools.
For example, if a 16-year-old teen is arrested on the count of sexual assault then the arresting agency is required to notify the school superintendent, principal and security officer of the offense within 24-hours. And if the victim of the assault attends the same school as the perpetrator, then the school district is required to place that adjudicated student in another school.
Speaker Michael Busch sponsored the Safe Schools Act of 2010 following several gang-related crimes last year.
“The Speaker’s view is that we have a responsibility as law makers to make sure schools are really a safe haven for kids and give parents a level of confidence that their kids are going to be safe,” said Alexandra Hughes, the communications director and policy advisor with the Speaker’s office.
In January 2009, a 15-year-old Gaithersburg girl was raped by three boys who attended the same school. By August, following the lengthy trial process, two of the boys were permitted to return to the school.
Hughes also noted the case in Anne Arundel County of the 15-year-old Crofton boy who was murdered by two teens with likely gang ties. The boy “actually switched schools after his parents became aware that he was being bullied by gang members at one school but the school personnel at his second school were not aware of the situation,” Hughes said.
Schools will only be required to move the adjudicated student of a sexual assault or rape. The act does not require perpetrators of other reportable offenses to be moved to another school. However, Hughes assumes that it may be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
“The goal is not to create new crimes or penalize kids who may have been caught up in a bad situation. The goal is to identify them and try to get them some help,” Hughes said.
Dana Tofig, the director of public information for MCPS, said the school district will be reviewing the act and its current policy to determine if changes need to be made, but Tofig did not know if perpetrators of non-sexual offense crimes, such as robbery, will be moved.
“You wouldn’t want to put a victim of a crime and the alleged perpetrator back in the same environment,” he added.