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Amid Mounting Questions, BCPS Provides Mandatory Gun Data
Recent reports by WBFF Fox 45 and the Baltimore Post have revealed a dearth of available firearm and weapons data for Baltimore County Public Schools.
Until now, the system simply cited a lack of data.
Federal and state law mandate school systems to specifically record firearm information as a requirement for the receipt of federal funding.
Fox 45 asked. Baltimore County came up empty handed. And a state lawmaker demanded answers.
“You cannot fix the problem if we don’t know the details,” State Delegate Pat McDonough told the Post.
Two weeks later, the Post has the data.
Perhaps it is all in how one asks. Or is it?
In May, Chris Papst, award winning lead investigator for Fox 45, asked both the Baltimore City and Baltimore County school systems for data related to confiscated weapons. Baltimore City complied with the request, while Baltimore County denied it.
Earlier this month, the Post reported on Baltimore County’s declining suspension and expulsion rates, which revealed trends that were in direct correlation with the previous White House administration’s ReThink Discipline initiative.
What was discovered was the stark contrast between the decline in overall school suspensions versus the disturbing upward trend that Fox 45 uncovered: that the number of weapons related incidents on Baltimore County School property is actually on the rise.
The station found that the system had shown a 35% increase in weapons brought on school property since 2012, with some schools showing a 500% increase.
Fox 45 sought information from the county on the types of weapons involved, including the types of guns involved. The system denied the station’s records request.
In response to Papst’s reporting on the uptick in weapons incidents, and Baltimore County’s assertion that records did not exist, State Delegate Pat McDonough immediately sought clarification from Maryland’s Attorney General’s Office and the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE). The Delegate asked for the pertinent laws that would require the reporting of weapons incidents – specifically firearms – in Maryland’s public schools. McDonough received in depth responses from both agencies which underscored mandates set forth by the federal Gun-Free Schools Act (20 USCA §7961).
In early July, the Post inquired with Baltimore County Public Schools regarding its unsatisfactory response to Fox 45. Mychael Dickerson, then Communications Director – now recently appointed Chief of Staff for the school system – had no comment when asked to confirm or deny the existence of firearm data in relation to federal and state laws.
Dickerson directed the Post to inquire directly with the system’s Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) department. Specifically requested was confirmation regarding Fox 45’s report that the system lacked the requested data. Neither an answer nor acknowledgement to the Post’s July 7 email was received from that office.
On July 9, the Post reported that Delegate McDonough would be requesting information from the system’s interim superintendent, doctoral candidate Verletta White, promising to elevate the issue to Maryland’s State Prosecutor and the State Department of Education if a sufficient response was not received. See: McDonough Checkmates Baltimore County on School Violence and Firearm Data.
White has been head of the system for less than three weeks, and would have been required to answer for data recorded under her predecessor, Dr. S. Dallas Dance.
On Friday, the Post received several documents from BCPS’ general counsel related to the July 7 inquiry on firearm data. Since the Post had not filed an official MPIA – due in part to Fox 45’s request failing to yield any such records – the Post instead asked for confirmation on the nonexistence of such records. As a result, the response from the school system was unexpected, included firearm data, and provided explanation as to why Fox 45 did not receive the data it sought in its official records request.
The letter to the Post read “Specifically, you seek the following record of the Baltimore County Public Schools.” Requested were “types of firearms that have been confiscated from students since 2012,” and “information on the types of firearms… forwarded to MSDE as the law requires.”
BCPS’ general counsel, Margaret-Ann Howie, continued, “Your letter refers to a Fox 45 Investigates article from May 24, 2017. Public records application filed by Fox 45 requested records relating to ‘weapons,’ which it further described as ‘guns, BB guns, look-alike guns, tasers, stunguns, knives, anything the school would consider a weapon.'”
The Post fails to see the difference between the requests and how firearm data could be withheld; nonetheless, Howie stated that the Post’s “request for records, unlike the queries from Fox 45, differs in that it seeks data reported by the school system as required by the Gun-Free Schools Act.”
Documents on BCPS’ firearm data were included in the school system’s response.
Between 2011 and 2016, there were six school related gun incidents recorded by Baltimore County Public Schools. All six resulted in referral to the criminal or juvenile justice systems, with half of the mandatory 1 year suspensions modified to “at home assignments.”
In the 2011-2012 schoolyear, there were no reported firearm incidents.
The document provided for the 2012-2013 schoolyear showed that the following incidents were reported: a sixth grader from Holabird Middle School was in possession of a pistol, a Perry Hall High School sophomore with a shotgun, and an 8th grade Stemmers Run Middle School student was found to be in possession of a handgun.
During both the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 schoolyears, there were no recorded firearm occurrences; and in 2015-2016, two Chesapeake High School sophomores brought Glock 22 .40 caliber semi-automatic handguns on school property, while another sophomore was found in possession of a Ruger 9 mm semi-automatic handgun.
The Post is also requesting school related arrest data from Baltimore County Police.
Delegate McDonough could not be reached for comment.