Prince George’s County Public Schools community members discussed concerns about school safety at a forum on Tuesday, weeks after a shooting near DuVal High School left one student dead and school officials found a loaded firearm at Fairmont Heights High School.
PGCPS superintendent Millard House II led the school safety action forum, which aimed to provide families, educators and other community members an opportunity to discuss the district’s efforts to ensure safety and security within their schools.
“There is zero tolerance for fire guns, firearms, knives or any type of weapon on the premises of our schools,” House said. “Anything that threatens the safety of students and staff is, quite frankly, unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”
House’s comments at Tuesday’s forum come after two recent gun-related incidents at or near county schools.
On Sept. 11, DuVal High School student Jayda Medrano-Moore was fatally shot near the school’s campus. A 17-year-old Charles Herbert Flowers High School student was arrested in connection with the shooting.
Nine days later, another gun-related incident took place at Fairmont Heights High School. A 17-year-old student brought a loaded firearm onto the school’s campus, prompting urgent calls for administrators and law enforcement to address safety concerns across PGCPS.
Violence in PGCPS rose to unprecedented levels in recent years, according to Prince George’s County Police Chief Malik Aziz. There were 10 arrests related to firearms during the 2022-23 school year. So far in the 2023-24 school year, there have been two gun-related arrests, Aziz said.
“The high volume of guns in our county, they will permeate our school system in some form or fashion.” Aziz said Tuesday.
The juvenile arrest rate in the county has also seen a noticeable increase since 2019. PGPD arrested 62 individuals under 18 years old that year, compared to the 71 arrested so far in 2023, Aziz said.
PGCPS introduced new safety measures this summer — some of which were implemented before the incidents at DuVal and Fairmont Heights high schools. Students at county high schools are required to carry clear backpacks, and some schools have security screening technology like metal detectors.
The security screening devices are portable and can be moved as needed throughout the school’s campus for sports games and other events, according to school system safety and security services director Gary Cunningham.
Rayne Rivera-Forbes, a senior at DuVal High School and the PGCPS Board of Education’s student member, said at the forum that the metal detectors and clear backpacks make a big difference, but further action is needed.
“As a community, we must do more,” Rivera-Forbes said. “A lot of violence happens outside of school, off of school property, and we have to start asking more questions like, ‘What is causing students to take actions like this?'”
Cunningham said the devices take eight to 10 weeks to construct and deliver to schools. By November, each high school in the county will be equipped with at least eight screening devices, he said, adding that eight of the county’s 42 middle schools will also have screening technology by spring 2024.
PGCPS has stationed 18 student resource officers in high schools and eight in middle schools, Aziz said. Under overtime policies, an additional supervisor and five additional officers are rotated across various schools.
Cunningham said the school district has requested additional personnel to guide students through metal detectors in schools, but hasn’t received an answer to the request yet.
The school system partners with PGPD to request and administer school resource officers.
House told community members that as the county grapples with issues related to school security and safety, parents should play an active role and encourage their children to say something if they see something.
“This is a collective effort,” House said. “We also need you, as parents, to take the message to heart. Check your child’s rooms, their belongings. If you are aware of a weapon or something that just doesn’t sit right in their possession, even if it’s your child or their friend, please report it.”