ANNAPOLIS – After a gunman rampaged through Montgomery County last week, police officers swarmed public school entrances and parking lots, vowing to protect every student in the county.
But no officer was assigned to Mary Kay Frazier’s private school in Rockville.
St. Jude Catholic School, where Frazier is assistant principal, is one of several private schools in Montgomery and neighboring Prince George’s County that has lacked police presence for days after the shootings first occurred.
Six people have died — five in Montgomery County — since the first confirmed shot was fired in the shooting spree Oct. 2. The attacks spread to Fredericksburg, Va., and then Prince George’s County, where a schoolboy was critically injured Monday entering his middle school.
A shortage of police officers has been the main reason all private schools have not received personal attention, said Montgomery County Police Department Officer Derek Baliles. Instead, officers have been assigned to patrol geographic areas surrounding private schools.
“It’s important for us not only to cover our public schools but also our private schools,” Baliles said. “Every child is precious to us here.”
Baliles said the police department’s goal is to have a “visible presence” near all schools to make kids feel safe.
Montgomery County has 1,074 police officers, many of whom are working around the clock to answer tip lines and respond to other crimes, Baliles said.
About 200 law enforcement personnel are directly investigating the spree killings, not all from Montgomery.
Prince George’s County officials have said all public schools in the county will be assigned a police officer. However, private schools were not included in the directive.
The need for school protection heightened Monday after the 13-year-old was shot in front of Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Prince George’s County. By Tuesday afternoon, an officer was sent to stand outside St. Jude while students were dismissed.
Until then, Frazier depended on St. Jude parents who are police officers to help keep the school secure.
“What we have been told, flat out, from the county is that they just don’t have enough (officers). I don’t think we’ve had the same response as county (public) schools,” Frazier said.
Nevertheless, Frazier said, “The school feels very safe. We’ve got good parents.”
One such parent, Home and School Association president Maureen Richter, said she understands the police are busy but she doesn’t want St. Jude to be overlooked.
“I’m anxious and nervous. I think as taxpaying citizens we should have the protection of police officers,” she said.
Police have not offered to come to Queen Anne School, a private school on 50 acres in Upper Marlboro, said Brenda Walker, executive assistant to the headmaster.
Students there feel safe because of Queen Anne’s many security officers and strict policies. Students are monitored while walking among the eight buildings on campus to change classes. At the end of the day, they are taken to one of two buildings and not allowed to leave until their ride checks in at the main gate.
Most area private schools are taking the same precautions as Montgomery and Prince George’s County public schools, including a lockdown and the cancellation of all outdoor activities.
Headmaster John Zurn’s private school in Olney is one of the few that has been staffed by a police officer during school opening and closing.
“We had some kids who were anxious,” said Zurn, of St. John’s Episcopal School. “I was just very appreciative that they sent somebody out.”