Gun incident at school

School Superintendent Dallas Dance said the school system will launch a new Office of Safety and Security after the second gun incident in two weeks. (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun / September 10, 2012)

Parents and teachers in Baltimore County expressed a lingering uneasiness about school violence Wednesday, despite school officials' promises of beefed-up security after the second gun-related incident in two weeks.

The morning after an eighth-grader allegedly threatened his teacher and classmates with a gun at Stemmers Run Middle School in Essex, police cruisers lined up alongside school buses. Less than 10 miles away, students went about their morning routines at Perry Hall High School, where a student was shot on the first day of school.

Meanwhile, school administrators, working to purchase new hand-held metal detectors, gathered to brainstorm ideas for creating the security office that schools Superintendent Dallas Dance announced Tuesday.

Some parents dropping their children off at Stemmers Run questioned the effectiveness of school initiatives to stem violence if parents aren't doing their part at home. Norman James Gatewood, the 70-year-old grandfather of the Stemmers Run student who was arrested after allegedly pulling a gun, was charged Tuesday with failing to secure the gun at his house.

"I think the schools do as much as they can," said Alvin Barksdale, whose daughter is in seventh grade. Preventing violence must "be a joint effort," he said. "It's got to be the schools. It's got to be the parents. It's got to be the community organizations."

At Perry Hall High, Martha Bingaman, a teacher in Baltimore County for 25 years, said she and other teachers "feel uncomfortable. This is not what I signed up for 25 years ago."

School officials are working on a broad response to the recent violence, said Mychael Dickerson, a spokesman. The school system is examining best practices around the region and country, he said, as well as looking at the resources it has in place and how they might be incorporated under the new safety structure.

Dickerson said a new position will be created in the system to head the new Office of Safety and Security promised by Dance.

"It's going to be someone who is a single point of contact for safety and security," he said.

Overall, Dance is "not taking anything off of the table," Dickerson said. "At this point we're still in the planning stages, but it will be something that is done sooner rather than later."

Other details, including how much the changes are expected to cost the system, were not available.

Whatever is decided will likely be rolled out under heightened sensitivity about violence, a sensitivity that was clear Wednesday.

Two incidents involving a gun or the threat of a gun in the county Wednesday had police rushing to stem confusion about the incidents and quash rumors that they were linked to public schools.

Police said a 15-year-old boy at the Forbush School — a Sheppard Pratt facility in Northwest Baltimore County that provides services for students with behavioral disabilities and autism — was charged with disorderly conduct and with disturbing school activities. Police said the student had joked about having a gun, but did not have a weapon.

Police also reported a police-involved shooting about 11:35 a.m. in the 700 block of Frederick Road in Catonsville. The shooter fled and was found by police on the grounds of Catonsville High School, police said, noting that the school was not locked down.

At a previously scheduled community forum at Loch Raven High School on Wednesday night, parents expressed concern about the recent school incidents. Dance said it's up to parents to remind their children what's right and wrong, and the school system to educate students on the measures that will be taken to prevent weapons from getting into schools.

"It can't just be the schools are doing this," Dance said. "We have to do this together."

In the Stemmers Run incident Tuesday, the 13-year-old boy stood at the end of class and pulled a loaded .25-caliber semiautomatic handgun from his pocket, county police said. The eighth-grader then threatened his teacher, students in the classroom and himself before his female teacher "grappled" with him and forced him to drop the weapon, police said.

The boy will be charged as a juvenile. Children charged as juveniles are not identified.