The South Bend School Corporation hosted a panel of students and officials from throughout the district Thursday at John Adams High School to talk about school safety.
At the panel, held the day after nationwide student walkouts against gun violence, students from different high schools told school officials how they felt in their respective buildings.
Most students said they felt safe inside school buildings, but aren’t able to shake the feeling that something could happen. Others admitted they thought more about not doing certain things, like opening side doors for their peers.
Principal of Clay High School Mansour Eid, Principal of Adams High School Jim Seitz and South Bend Police Chief Eric Crittendon reviewed safety measures. They acknowledged improvements they have made to procedures, and said there are always changes being made in order to keep high schools safe.
“If students feel safe in their building,” Seitz said, “If they feel like they have someone they can speak with on a daily basis, they’re going to feel safer, and consequently they are going to be able to focus on education.”
The principals also talked about infrastructure improvements to school buildings, as well as strategies being implemented to deal with student behavior, such as Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, or PBIS.
Chief Crittendon stressed the importance of student resource officers in school and the role they play in creating a relationship with students.
“School resource officers are certified police officers, armed police officers,” Crittendon said, “I want to be clear that the officers are not there to be an occupying force. We serve in many capacities, we get in the classrooms, we teach law-related education, we’re counselor, we’re mentor, and some are even coaches, so you get to see us in a different perspective instead of just arresting.”
School officials stressed the importance of safety measures, such as ID cards to identify students and staff.
Some parents of elementary and intermediate students felt questions had been unanswered regarding the safety of their kids, and approached Superintendent Dr. Kenneth Spells after the event.
Parents formed a circle around Dr. Spells and voiced their concerns regarding safety and possible steps that can be taken in order to prevent violence and bullying in schools and to make safety plans more effective. Suggestions included the need for recess or free-
time to allow kids time to destress during the school day, to improving the training that substitute teachers receive regarding emergency drills.
Monica Watson and Perry Watson IV have a third and a seventh grader in different district schools.
Watson said the meeting was different than what she expected.
“Well, the memo stated it was going to be a conversation,” she said, “ So that suggested to me there was going to be input at all levels, from the administration, and students that they had and obviously parents. Teachers as well.”
Watson IV said the communication at the elementary and middle school level is a concern to him.
“It appears there’s a whole different line of communication that happens at the high school level, and in general, I feel like there were a lot of things they were unaware of, that they’re aware of now,” he said.
Watson IV cited the tipline the school officials touted throughout the panel meeting as an example of miscommunication. A few of the parents who spoke with Dr. Spells after the panel, said they also didn’t know about the tipline.
Quick Tip is the app Watson IV is referring to. The app available for both Android and Apple devices is intended to allow students and parents to submit anonymous tips of any suspicious activities they might see at their schools. There is also a QR code for the app.
Dr. Spells told parents this is the first of many forums and conversations the school corporation intends to have on the subject of safety, but this specific event was to hear from students themselves and how they felt.
“I think at the next meeting that we have we’ll hear from the parents and the community board,” he said.
A second meeting has not yet been scheduled.