BERLIN – Top law enforcement officials met with the Worcester County Board of Education in closed session this week after expressing school safety concerns.
Worcester County State’s Attorney Kris Heiser and Worcester County Sheriff Matt Crisafulli and Chief Deputy Nate Passwaters met with the school board in a special session Wednesday. The meeting was requested by Heiser and Crisafulli, who outlined serious concerns about the safety of local schools in a Sept. 21 letter to the school board.
“At this point in time, we are in possession of evidence proving that there have been and continue to be repeated, and at times intentional, violations of Maryland state law by school officials in failing to notify law enforcement of criminal misconduct and delinquent acts occurring within Worcester County Public Schools,” the letter reads. “We would like to provide the board and legal counsel this evidence privately and outside of the presence of school officials, in a special closed session.”
Todd Ferrante, president of the Worcester County Board of Education, acknowledged the Oct. 4 meeting in a statement Thursday.
“Upon receipt of the letter requesting to present to the Board of Education, a special meeting was scheduled at the earliest opportunity as the safety and security of our students and staff is the number one priority of both the Board and school system staff,” Ferrante said. “Yesterday, the Board heard concerns from Worcester County’s Sheriff and State’s Attorney, and at the direction of the Board, school system leadership is investigating those concerns. The Board will hold another special meeting next week to hear the findings of the school system’s investigation into these matters.”
In August, the school board approved an updated memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office related to the school resource deputy program. At the time, school system officials said they were comfortable with the MOU.
“We collaboratively noted we needed to firm up some things and make our memorandum of understanding even stronger so over the past few months and specifically the last few weeks we worked together on a memorandum of understanding we can both feel comfortable with,” said Annette Wallace, chief safety and academic officer for grades 9-12, at the August meeting when the MOU was approved.
According to the Sept. 21 letter to the board, the updated MOU came after Heiser and Crisafulli shared concerns with the school system.
“We have engaged in many difficult discussions with school officials to identify, discuss and resolve law enforcement’s ongoing concerns about the consistent lack of notification to law enforcement about criminal activity and delinquent acts occurring at school or by students,” the letter reads. “Quite obviously, law enforcement cannot enforce the law when they are not notified that the law has been broken.”
In addition to the MOU, those discussions led to development of a new Standard Operating Procedure for the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office’s school resource deputies. Crisafulli told The Dispatch in August that the new procedure would provide deputies with more guidance regarding custodial arrests and referrals to the juvenile justice system.
Before the school year began, the sheriff’s office provided training to school administrators to ensure they were aware of the policies, according to law enforcement. The sheriff’s office then conducted community outreach about the changes and released a smartphone app to allow community members to anonymously report any concerns.
“We were hopeful that this school year would provide a fresh start and a renewed dedication by school officials to safety protocols and mandatory notifications to law enforcement, as outlined in these written guidelines and policies,” the letter reads. “Unfortunately, we continue to witness the ongoing failures in communication and notification, with several violent and disturbing incidents and corresponding lack of notification to law enforcement by school officials, even during these first few weeks of school. It has become quite clear that no progress will be made by school officials without greater involvement and specific direction from the Board of Education, to whom they are directly accountable.”
Heiser and Crisafulli said the negative impact of the actions of school officials on the ability to maintain safe schools couldn’t be overstated.
“Over the past four years, we have had two critical incidents involving the potential for mass casualty events at schools within Worcester County, which were fortunately discovered and prevented,” the letter reads. “However, we cannot risk another incident, especially at a time when we know that school officials are regularly substituting their judgment for that of law enforcement and deciding not to notify school resource deputies about such incidents.”
The letter references evidence highlighting law enforcement concerns. Ferrante indicated that the board would likely release additional information after the school board meets next week.
“At the conclusion of the next meeting, I anticipate being able to make a public statement specifically addressing the allegations in the letter we received while maintaining the privacy of any students and personnel referenced,” he said in Thursday’s statement. “We take matters of safety and security very seriously, and we will ensure that our school system community can rest assured that our schools are safe centers for learning.”