Parents Share Ideas to Increase Safety in Schools

By: Estephany Escobar Email
By: Estephany Escobar Email

Harrisonburg City Schools, police and the city council hosted a school safety forum on Tuesday.

Harrisonburg City Schools employee Craig Mackail said the forum is intended to create a discussion about safety.

"It's just not a school issue. It's not just a police department issue. It's really a community issue because the schools really reflect the community and I think community members really need to get involved with school safety and school security," said Mackail.

During the forum, school and city leaders mentioned the steps they have taken to increase security in schools.

Some of them include, practicing and reviewing lockdown drills and allowing police to train inside of schools at night.

School leaders said they have also added greeters to schools that don't have entrances that lead to the main office.

They also said they will make changes to entrances so visitors have to report to the main office when they walk into the school.

Parent Brad Jenkins said he attended the forum to learn about the improvements the school leaders are making to protect children.

However, he said he feels schools leaders, the police department and the city council are doing everything they can.

"I feel very confident with the safety at the schools. I felt confident before the shootings. I feel confident and I'm confident that my kids are safe now," said Jenkins.

The Director of the Virginia Youth Project Doctor Dewey Cornell told parents should not think shootings are a common occurrence at schools.

"One shooting in Connecticut doesn't mean that Virginia schools are not safe or that things have so dramatically changed," said Cornell.

Cornell said only one percent from the 1,700 homicides that involve school-aged children every year occur at a school.

According to Cornell, the last time a student was shot at a public school in Virginia was in 1998.

Jenkins offered suggestions that could prevent further tragedies. He asked school leaders if they have considered adding resource officers in elementary schools.

"School resource officers in the elementary schools could be helpful to form mentorship with the students and things like that. I would just hope that it would be done in a way that keeps the innocence of our elementary school kids intact," said Jenkins.

School Resource Officer Antoine Sinclair said forming relationships with students is part of his job.

"They're comfortable seeing you in the hallways, they're comfortable talking to you maybe about something they don't feel comfortable talking to school officials about," said Sinclair.

Mackail said the goal is to make a comfortable environment for kids to open up.

"It's okay to go to a guidance counselor when you don't have a problem but your best friend does so we have to build those kinds of things to make our schools safe," said Mackail.

One parent mentioned at the forum that it would be helpful if students to have a tip line where students can report concerns remaining anonymous.

This person also suggested surveying students about ways to improve school safety.

Mackail said listening to ideas from parents can lead to better results.

"Our families in our schools, they know they can bring questions to us, suggest improvements. I think that's important and I think that's how you build a stronger and safer school," Mackail said.

Jenkins said he also appreciates being part of the conversation.

"I think that is key that the community is involved in these discussions and I just hope that continues," said Jenkins.

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