On being a safe place
I am tremendously encouraged by the coming together of student voices across the country to provide a powerful spur for meaningful action from government.
Here at Good Counsel, students Helton Rodriguez and Caterina Ieronimo were quick to step forward with ideas about how our community could respond to this latest national tragedy. Teach-ins have already taken place. Talon journalist Alexia Ayuk secured an interview with Senator Van Hollen to ask tough questions about legislative action. In solidarity, we will participate in next Wednesday's National Walk Out in a way that reflects our most deeply held values and our Catholic identity. Unless the weather interferes, we plan to walk out to our recently completed grotto. There, we will spend 17 minutes in a prayer service for peace.
In the aftermath of Parkland, I suspect every school is taking a hard look at its security procedures. We are. Our students felt Parkland keenly. Their seriousness was evident when we held a lockdown drill last week. I walked much of the building; you could have heard a pin drop. Our practices have been analyzed by a senior Montgomery County Police officer and he has made a number of suggestions that reflect the latest police thinking about school security. There's more to come on that.
Yet for all the adjustments to align with best practices for a safe school environment, those of us who are in schools every day realize the near impossibility of making our schools impregnable. We are a school, not a fortress.
Our reaction to school violence is visceral. There are other less visible threats to maintaining a safe and secure school. We live in a state where it seems legal recreational use of marijuana is not far away from becoming a reality. The old stereotype of students smoking in the bathroom seems like an almost quaint throwback. Today, there are multiple threats that exist below the radar – opioid painkillers, small and odorless vaping devices, edibles that are indistinguishable from any other cookie or brownie.
And, earlier this week, the National Association of Independent Schools published Prevention and Response: Recommendations for Independent School Leaders from the Independent School Task Force on Educator Sexual Misconduct. The document, developed over the past 18 months, is a powerful call for every school to be vigilant and have clear expectations, sound policy and procedure, and consistent training in the effort to protect students from harassment, abuse and other forms of misconduct.
Year in and year out, surveys of parents come up with the same three reasons why families choose Catholic schools: rigorous academics, values, and safety. Our families trust us to deliver on all three.
My colleague, Principal Tom Campbell wrote a letter to the community recently in which he addressed some of these same issues and provided valuable resources.
I write this letter to reiterate the commitment we make at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School to meet your fundamental expectation that we will do our utmost every day to maintain a safe, secure and healthy environment for all our students. Only in such a context can we carry out our mission: to inspire our students to excel, serve, and love.