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by Judith Hruz
Montgomery County leaders want to make sure the children of today grow up to be smart, healthy and productive adults of tomorrow, and say that perhaps for the first time all levels of the county – the executive branch, the County Council, the school system, Health and Human Services and police – will work together to provide academic, social, emotional and mental health support for them.
“The mental health and well-being of our children has been tested like no other time,” County Executive Marc Elrich said during an April 23 press conference to announce the Reimagining School Safety and Students’ Well-Being Initiative.
The collaboration is designed to rethink and reshape public safety in schools and provide the best social and mental health support for students.
An interagency committee will lead the implementation of a holistic approach to reimagining safety and mental health supports in Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS).
Elrich said it is “now or never” when it comes to addressing the issues children have to deal with socially, inside and outside of schools, and during the isolation, pressure and general stress of the 14-month pandemic.
“I’m really proud of this collaboration,” he said.
Council Vice President Gave Albornoz (D-At large) said the past year has been filled with trauma for all youths.
“I have never been more concerned,” he said, adding, “It is up to us right now to make sure we get this right.”
Councilwoman Nancy Navarro (D-Dist. 4) echoed that sentiment.
“This is an opportunity to meet the moment,” she said, adding how critical it is to design a “comprehensive and holistic approach” to guiding children.
Council President Tom Hucker (D-Dist. 5) said the County Council has been discussing more services for students as it has debated whether to keep sworn police officers, known as School Resource Officers (SRO’s), stationed inside of schools, take them out or create a hybrid of the program.
Opinions vary among council members, school officials, parents and students. But it is importance to include the students’ perspective on the issue.
Hucker said he believes that the county “would make much better policies for students when they are the center of that policy.”
Richard Montgomery High School senior Nick Asante, the student member of the Montgomery County Board of Education, said he hopes the initiative will set a nationwide precedent.
Councilman Will Jawando (D-At large) called the announcement “a big day for students,” and Councilman Craig Rice (D-Dist. 2) called the initiative an opportunity for the county to ensure the emotional and mental health well-being of all students.
“We listened, we heard you,” he said, “and we’re going to make it better.”
Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus Jones thanked County Executive Marc Elrich for allowing the police department to be part of the change.
He said the police are committed to the safety, health and welfare of students.
“Safety is our primary mission,” he said.
The measures, guidelines and ideas of the initiative will be implemented as soon as possible, Elrich said.
“This is our chance to make a lasting difference,” he said.
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