One year after shooting, Magruder HS parents remain frustrated with MCPS officials

During+the+Nov.+30+meeting%2C+some+parents+criticized+the+lack+of+clear+and+consistent+information+from+the+school+district+during+the+shooting+while+others+brought+up+the+long+student+dismissal+process+that+followed.%C2%A0

Photo courtesy Ilana Levine

During the Nov. 30 meeting, some parents criticized the lack of clear and consistent information from the school district during the shooting while others brought up the long student dismissal process that followed. 

By Harper Barnowski, Walt Whitman High School

One year after a shooting in a Magruder High School bathroom left one student in a coma, parents remain frustrated with MCPS leaders and Montgomery County police over their response to the incident. 

School district officials held a town hall meeting with Magruder community members on Nov. 30 to share new information about the shooting and allow attendees to share their lingering concerns.

The meeting included an apology from MCPS for miscommunications to parents during the incident, a list of improvements during future lockdown and active shooter situations and an emotional speech from the victim’s mother, Karen Thomas, in which she accused MCPS of never contacting her to inquire about the well-being of her son, DeAndre Thomas, while he was in the hospital.

During the two-hour meeting, some parents criticized the lack of clear and consistent information from the school district during the shooting while others brought up the long student dismissal process that followed. 

According to information presented at the meeting, the dismissal process began at 4:24 p.m. and didn’t finish until 7:30 p.m. The shooting began at 12:52 p.m.

Magruder parent Kim Glassman received an email from MCPS at 1:28 p.m., 36 minutes after the shooter fired on the victim in the bathroom. The notification said that her son’s school was in lockdown due to a “student health issue,” according to Glassman. Shortly afterward, she left her office and drove to the school, and ended up waiting there for over four hours while police arrested the suspect and officials held a press conference.

“I wish that the main priority was getting all of the children reunited with their parents and not focusing on the press conference,” Glassman said. “All of the attention was there and our kids hadn’t been dismissed yet.”

Some parents, like Glassman, found that MCPS’ word choice and frequency of communication during the incident were “concerns.” MCPS officials sent parents three notifications about the shooting between 1:28 and 2:47 p.m., and sent a fourth message at 5:06 p.m.. During the two-hour period in between the communications, police removed students who were in the same room as the shooter, confiscated their phones and questioned them without parental consent, according to one parent at the meeting. The parent was concerned that the shooter had shot their child, especially since MCPS had never confirmed if any other students had been hurt in their communications.

Other parents, like Cynthia Simonson, didn’t feel like anyone was controlling the scene, which contributed to the long dismissal process, she said.

“Even when I asked the question, [MCPS] couldn’t really say who was in charge,” Simonson said. “It changed based on who arrived at the scene. I think that has to be worked out in order to create a safer environment. You can’t have the baton moving from person to person in a crisis.”

Some parents also wondered if all teachers and officials followed lockdown procedures correctly, and criticized the after-action report. A substitute teacher left the school during the incident, leaving their students behind in the classroom, Glassman said, while Simonson said that students in another classroom continued to take a test while in lockdown. Magruder never moved to a “shelter-in-place” from lockdown — even after police removed the shooter — forcing some students to urinate in bottles inside of closets, according to parents at the meeting. Parents at the meeting also felt that the after-action report omitted detail about the duration of the lockdown, and didn’t discuss in depth whether teachers and officials followed lockdown procedures correctly. 

“[MCPS] didn’t lie, they just omitted the most crucial pieces of information,” Simonson said. “They haven’t shared how their communications plan will change in the future. They said that they’ve made changes, but they haven’t explained what those changes are.”

At the meeting, MCPS officials shared the key takeaways from the incident. These included more frequent communications with parents, adjustments to lockdown procedures and having clear parent-child reunification protocols that are prioritized over a press conference. Officials also said they would create an addendum to the after-action report.

Simonson hopes that MCPS will investigate the addendum more thoroughly than the first report, which contained inaccuracies, according to Simonson and Glassman.
“MCPS put out a narrative, and then they did the work to find out what happened, and that was incredibly concerning to us,” Simonson said. “The sequencing was wrong.”

According to Simonson, MCPS didn’t begin to investigate the validity of information in the after-action report until the fourth or fifth request from parents.

Thomas sued MCPS for “negligence in removing school resource officers during a time of ‘significantly increased violence’”. Thomas named the Board of Education and Montgomery County as plaintiffs. 

Simonson believes that while MCPS may never be able to heal the anger and hurt of the parents, taking steps towards improvement after receiving feedback is a necessary start.

“I don’t think that they could ever fully restore what their inaction took from our community,” Simonson said. “However, I do believe that seeing MCPS grow does have a restorative and healing power.”

This story was originally published on The Black & White on January 20, 2023.