MCPS officials emphasize student health and safety at monthly press conference


Eleanor Taylor

Superintendent Jack Smith introduces the topics of discussion for the second MCPS press conference of 2020.

By Eleanor Taylor

MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith discussed several issues relating to student health and safety at this month’s media briefing Feb. 6. Smith and other county officials emphasized personal safety both in school and out of school, addressing topics ranging from hate and bias in schools to pedestrian safety along county bus routes to teen vaping.

Smith and Deputy Superintendent Monifa McKnight stressed the importance of coordination between county officials and school communities in acting proactively rather than reactively when addressing hate and bias in schools. Both Smith and McKnight referenced what they called a “surge” in hate and bias-related incidents in MCPS schools, making mention of the two swastikas drawn at Silver Creek Middle School earlier this school year.

To address the issue, McKnight introduced “Project Interrupt,” a training program designed to help guide school administrators, staff and communities in recognize and prevent hate and bias incidents. The Board of Education will first implement the project in school clusters that have experienced a high number of hate and bias incidents, McKnight said.

“Discrimination in any form will not be tolerated,” McKnight said. “It impedes our district’s ability to discharge its responsibilities to all students and staff and achieve our community’s long standing efforts to create, foster, and promote equity, inclusion, and, most importantly, acceptance for every single individual.”

MCPS Director of Transportation Todd Watkins discussed school bus safety issues, noting the county’s emphasis on improving student safety at bus stops and providing additional training to school bus drivers and attendants, especially after two serious bus-related incidents in December 2019, one of which resulted in the death of a fourth grade student from Bradley Hills Elementary school.

“No matter what we do in terms of the infrastructure of bus stops or the equipment we put on buses to keep kids safe, the most important safety device is the bus operator and bus attendant,” Watkins said.

The county’s Department of Transportation is also partnering with a group of Whitman students to produce a video to teach elementary school students about safely getting on and off the bus. 

Ruschelle Reuben, Associate Superintendent of the Office of Student and Family Support and Engagement, spoke about vaping and e-cigarette use. 

Reuben announced MCPS’s collaboration with the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services to create a new anti-vaping campaign called “Let’s Clear the Air.” It will include an anti-vaping symposium at Johns Hopkins University, an anti-vaping PSA video contest for middle and high school students, student focus groups to discuss the factors that lead to vaping and e-cigarette use, and additional substance abuse education for both students and parents.

“We’re very concerned about the impact that [vaping] has on not only well-being — mental, physical, and emotional — but also the academic aspect of our students,” Reuben said. “Because we know that when they’re engaging in these things, there is a significant and direct impact on how they’re able to be available for that instruction in the classroom.”

Throughout the briefing, Smith emphasized the fundamental importance of student safety to the county’s work in public schools.

“Students make up 100% of the future,” Smith said. “And this area of work is so critical because it goes to the very core of our work, which is keeping students safe while we provide them with learning opportunities.”