ANNAPOLIS – The Safe Schools Act of 2010, unveiled Tuesday by House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, would require courts to notify schools if a student is arrested for crimes that could indicate gang membership, such as assault and malicious destruction of property.
The legislation calls for better communication between schools and law enforcement agencies about gang activity and suspected gang members.
The bill came about after the killing of a 14-year-old Crofton boy last year. The incident has been linked to gang rivalry.
"When we sat down and talked with the law enforcement agencies from Anne Arundel County and other [counties], we found out that there is a prevalence of gangs that exists in every county in the state of Maryland," Busch said.
"We felt it was important for us to try to address some of the problems with the sharing of information between law enforcement agencies and boards of education," Busch said.
The bill calls for the development of a consistent statewide policy for gang prevention and intervention efforts in schools, such as training teachers to recognize signs of gang activity.
In addition, middle and high schools would now be legally required to have at least one designated school security officer on site.
The focus of these measures would be on intervention rather than punishment.
"Our goal is to have a positive effect on kids," Busch said. "Our goal is not to go in and try to arrest and put kids into juvenile detention centers."
Portions of the bill have drawn criticism from groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland.
Legislative Director Cindy Boersma, while praising the bill as a largely balanced and restrained approach to dealing with gangs, was concerned about provisions requiring courts to notify schools about children who are delinquent or in need of assistance, such as those who have been placed in the guardianship of the Department of Juvenile Services.
These provisions conflict with current confidentiality laws, Boersma said.
Del. Ron George, R-Anne Arundel, addressed some of these concerns when Busch announced the bill with members of the House Ways and Means Committee.
"The civil liberties of all the other students are really important," George said. "They should not go to school living in fear of intimidation and force."
"We're really protecting civil liberties … for most of the students," George said.
Gene Streagle, a former principal of Howard High School in Ellicott City who now works as executive director of the Maryland Association of Secondary School Principals, said the idea behind the bill was sound but said working out the details would be difficult.
Concerns will no doubt arise about how information about students is properly gathered and used, especially when gang membership is something students often want to conceal, Streagle said.
"[But] anytime police and schools can share information it's a good thing," Streagle said.