Case Summary: The Community Foundation of Frederick County and the Frederick County Public School System Do Not Support School Safety
The Situation at a Glance
The Institute for Complexity Management (ICM) is a non-profit charitable organization dedicated to the mission of enhancing the safety of children at school. The Community Foundation of Frederick County (CFFC) is a grant funding organization headquartered in Frederick, Maryland. CFFC is a non-profit corporation that solicits grant funds to support worthy charitable causes throughout the County of Frederick, Maryland. The Frederick County Public School System (FCPS) includes 65 schools that serve 40,159 students in grades pre-kindergarten through 12. In this case summary we describe how CFFC and FCPS officials worked together to destroy an opportunity to enhance the safety of our children at school.
Several years ago, in 2008, a small company called ThoughtQuest LLC received a $75,000 grant from the State of Maryland Technology Development Corporation (TEDCO) to develop science-based risk management tools based on a patent. The patent was the precursor to what is called predictive analytics today. Predictive analytics allow you to look at large volumes of data to determine the likelihood that a particular type of event will occur at your location.
The small company chose to build a prototype software tool to improve school safety. The new software was developed with a team of national experts including the Army National Guard, Argonne National Laboratory, former FBI agents, a psychologist, medical professionals and other first responders to address the realm of school safety and security incidents. The software was tested at a high school at the National Guard’s Muscattuck Urban Training Center and a mid-sized college in the company’s local community. The software was highly effective in identifying threats to school safety and security and providing science-based countermeasures designed to prevent safety and security incidents at schools before they happen. A short whitepaper concerning the development of the school safety software and areas of coverage can be found here.
As things would have it, the first commercial application of the software was in the area of food safety. A new company was established called FoodQuestTQ with the TQ standing for threat quotient. Over the next five years, the early prototype systems were vastly improved as the company worked to make the food supply safer.
Then in late 2014, with their food safety tools developed and the threats to the safety of school children still rising the owners of the new technology decided to turn their attention back to the problem of enhancing school safety. The commercial company that owned the technology upon which the school safety software was based agreed to allow the Institute for Complexity Management (ICM) and their newly established National School Safety Collaboratory (http://www.nationalschoolsafetycollaboratory.org) to use their patent for school safety purposes. The idea was to create a public-private partnership that would provide the new school safety software to schools across Frederick County, Maryland and the nation at little to no cost to school systems by partnering with charitable grant funding institutions like CFFC and local businesses.
Concerns about School Safety and Security are Real
The National Center for Education Statistics in their report “Indicators of School Crime and Safety” found that during the 2010-11 school year (the most recent data available) there were 31 violent deaths including homicides and suicides involving students, staff members and others on school campuses. They also report that nonfatal incidents at school such as theft and assault are on the rise. In 2012, students between the ages of 12 and 18 experienced more than 1.3 million nonfatal victimizations, according to the report.[i]
Safety and Security incidents in the Frederick County Public School System reflect these trends. In preparing this summary report, we spent just a short time “googling around” to see what we might find on the safety of schools in Frederick County. It did not take long for us to come up with a list of actual or threatened misconduct including violence, sexual misbehavior and safety incidents affecting school children attending the Frederick County Public School System. Just a few examples of what we randomly found on the internet are listed in Table 1, below.
Table 1: Just a Few Examples of School Safety and Security Incidents Involving Frederick County Public Schools
In January 2015, ICM and the National School Safety Collaboratory began contacting local charitable grant funding organizations in their home community of Frederick, Maryland. What happened may surprise some of you and shock others. It may also provide some important insights as to why the serious threats to the safety of our school children continue unabated even after national tragedies like Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook Elementary and so many others.
An e-mail and an innocent telephone call to CFFC inquiring about the availability of community grant funds to support the cause of better school safety turned into a nightmare and a tragic opportunity lost for the entire Frederick community. In their e-mail and follow-on call to CFFC, ICM asked for the opportunity to brief the grant funding organization on what they were attempting to do. In a voicemail, ICM told CFFC officials about their plans to meet with local school officials and their idea to enhance school safety. They asked CFFC for the opportunity to brief them in detail. What happened next defies any rational explanation.
Instead of taking ICM up on their offer to brief them or even calling ICM back, CFFC officials sent a secret back-channel e-mail directly to the Chief Operating Officer of FCPS. ICM was intentionally left in the dark about the e-mail. In their e-mail, CFFC “trashed” the ICM effort to enhance school safety before the project even had the chance to start. In their e-mail to FCPS, CFFC intimated that ICM was engaging in some sort of hanky-panky and cautioned FCPS that ICM’s inquiry “raised a lot of red flags…”
On the FCPS receiving end, the derogatory e-mail made its way from the FCPS Chief Operating Officer to the school system’s security coordinator. Without knowing that they had already been secretly “trashed” by CFFC, ICM later met directly with the FCPS security coordinator. Right out of the box, the FCPS security coordinator accused ICM of lying to CFFC by untruthfully claiming that ICM had some type of business relationship already in place with FCPS.
Since ICM was totally unaware of the secret e-mail sent by CFFC to FCPS, they had absolutely no idea what was going on. During the meeting, the FCPS security coordinator read portions of the derogatory CFFC e-mail to support his accusations that ICM was intentionally engaged in some sort of nefarious activity. Of course, ICM officials denied the false allegations being made against them by CFFC. After the meeting was over, FCPS sent an e-mail to ICM saying that they would not work with them. When ICM contacted CFFC they denied writing any e-mail to FCPS. ICM eventually obtained a copy of the derogatory CFFC e-mail to FCPS through a freedom of information request.
But perhaps most shocking of all was the admission by the FCPS security coordinator himself during the meeting. The FCPS security coordinator told ICM that local law enforcement did not know what they were doing in response to a recent shooting incident at a local high school, Frederick High School, in which two students were shot and seriously injured. He said that one of his own school resource officers had to step in to take command in order to avoid complete chaos. Hardly a testament to a good school security.
When ICM asked for an apology for the unfounded allegations made against them by CFFC and FCPS both organizations “lawyered up.” CFFC’s attorneys advised ICM that their concerns were, “baseless and silly.” FCPS attorneys refused to discuss the situation and referred ICM to their attorneys. So far, FCPS attorneys refuse to meet with ICM.
Why the Matter is So Important
Hardly a day goes by without hearing of another school safety incident on the news. From shootings and other forms of school violence, the spread of communicable disease, food safety, natural disasters, bullying and cyber-bullying, sexting and many other threats, the challenge of protecting our kids at school is a highly complex job. While we need to maintain many of the traditional methods of doing the business of school safety the statistics show that problems are getting worse, not better. In order to prevent more tragedies like Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook and others we need to be willing to try new ideas.
The actions of CFFC and FCPS highlight how unfounded suspicions and the failure to think before you act is harming our community and the safety of our children at school. Shame on CFFC and FCPS for making the difficult job of school safety even tougher. Future safety incidents in FCPS now fall squarely on both of your shoulders.
What ICM is Doing
On April 29, 2015, ICM sent an affidavit of truth to CFFC’s attorneys describing, under penalty of perjury, the exact series of actions taken by CFFC that resulted in the FCPS refusal to work with ICM to enhance school safety. CFFC has 45 days to rebut the allegations made in the affidavit of truth or they become administratively and legally binding. ICM plans to take further administrative and legal actions to obtain a formal apology for the unfounded allegations made against them by both CFFC and FCPS.
[i] U.S. News and World Report (June 10, 2014). Report: School Crime and Violence Rise by Allie Bidwell. Available on the World Web at: http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2014/06/10/incidents-of-school-crime-and-violence-on-the-rise-for-students-and-teachers