Closer Look: Talks to address school safety, violence

Published 12:18 pm Saturday, March 10, 2018

Friday morning a student at Frederick Douglass High School in Lexington accidentally hurt himself with a firearm. No other students or staff were injured, according to WKYT.

On Nov. 7, 2017, Kayla Holland and Adrianna Castro, both 16, were killed in a shooting in Winchester. It happened around 9 p.m. on East Washington Street.

On Jan. 23, two died in a shooting at Marshall County High School, at least 16 other students, all between the ages of 14 and 18, were injured. A student, age 15, opened fire in their school.

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On Feb. 14, 17 people were killed and at least 14 more wounded during a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Last May, GRC sent home a letter addressing social media posts which allege racial intolerance, fighting and threats of violence, including weapons brought to school. Days later, Winchester Police pulled over a school bus to search the vehicle and the students because of a report that a child on the bus had texted another person, saying he thought someone on the bus had a gun, according to a previous article in the Sun. But no weapons were found.

The incidents caused a drop in attendance at GRC for a few days.

The list goes on.

Since January, there have been multiple reports of threats, guns found, or scare tactics shared on social media to the youth and by youth across Kentucky.

Local response

Students are holding “March for our Lives” rallies in Lexington and Versailles; none have been confirmed in Clark County as of yet. The demonstrations are part of a national movement to end school violence and urge discussions on solutions to save the youth.

Because, never again, they say.

After the deaths of Kayla Holland and Adrianna Castro, Halee Cunningham said never again, too.

Cunningham, gift planning officer and deputy counsel at Bluegrass Community Foundation, said the violence, particularly in a small town like Winchester, impacts everyone: the families directly affected, the schools, the youth, the neighborhood and so on.

“I think it shook the community,” she said. “It affected the entire community, and it got people talking about what can we do to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

“I went to board members and said this is is the place where we can intervene and where we can act as a neutral third party to get people to the table and to make sure this kind of violence doesn’t happen again.”

Taking it to the table

BGCF decided to expand the “On the Table” event this year to Clark County and centered the conversations around school violence, school safety and ways to make sure our youth feel safe.

On The Table is a national initiative supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, according to the press release. It was launched in Lexington by Blue Grass Community Foundation last year. This year On The Table conversations will take place in Fayette, Clark, Franklin and Woodford counties. Cunningham said the idea is to have a casual, intimate dialogue about the issues.

Clark County’s conversations will focus on school safety and violence prevention. The Clark County Community Foundation will host On The Table. About 80 students from Baker Intermediate School, 100 from Campbell Junior High and 175 from GRC will get to sit down during school and have discussions around the prompts.

The prompts include example discussion questions featuring topics about issues facing schools, what kinds of resources are needed to prevent violence and the feeling of safety at school.

“The discussion questions are spot on for getting a student’s perspective on safety, bullying and empathy,” Clark County Public Schools Chief Academic Officer Brenda Considine said in a statement.

Olivia Brownlee, a fifth-grade student at Baker, will be one of several students participating in the discussions. Brownlee said she has never felt unsafe at school, but that is not always the case for other students or other schools.

“(These discussions are) to make sure the school is safe and that everyone in the school can be safe, learn and have a good education,” Brownlee said.

Brownlee suggested other schools should also have a safe way for people to get in like Baker does, referencing the locked doors, and the staff in the front office who ask why someone is visiting the school when they ring the doorbell.

Brownlee also said she’s heard some of her friends have been bullied and that people should do a better job of speaking up.

“I think they should go tell the teacher or try to stick up for that person if it’s okay to jump in so they could help that person out and go tell the teacher immediately,” she said.

Baker Principal Josh Mounts said there are too many instances of kids doing drugs, violence, shooting, students being neglected, etc. He said some students may see so much negative in their home lives, and then come to school, bringing those fears and anxieties with them. These discussions will help bring about positive change that is needed in Clark County, he said.

“I just feel like it’s important to get student, staff and community feedback so we can make our schools as safe as possible,” Mounts said.

Amy Madsen, a history teacher at GRC, said she has seen how the violence in the community and the school violence throughout the country had affected her students. Madsen is one of the teachers who will be facilitating On the Table discussions at GRC.

“It 100 percent affected my students,” Madsen said. “We watched the town meeting in Florida, and my students had a lot of good suggestions about ways to ward off some of the violence. It’s very confusing to them how somebody could do that. So, any type of feedback or dialogue we can get from students is valuable.”

Campbell Principal Dustin Howard said the best way to make our students feel safe is to have them take ownership of their school and to feel connected to the school in a positive way. He said he hopes these ‘On the Table’ discussions can foster that mentality.

“We really have a chance here,” Howard said. “They’re still optimistic and hopeful… We’re putting these programs in place to really educate our students on how to be positive people and citizens.”

From the table to real change

Cunningham said when she was talking with school administrators in Clark County about violence and school safety, they all agreed it would be better to hear from the students rather than the administrators solely making the decisions.

“We thought if they were involved in proposing solutions, we might have a higher success rate,” she said.

Cunningham said it is important the students have a say in these discussions.

“We want them to understand they have a voice,” she said. “We want to hear them.”

The foundation plans to use the notes from the discussions to help guide grantmaking and will partner with Clark County Public Schools on implementing programs and protocols geared toward increasing safety and preventing violence in our public schools.

“We cannot allow violence in schools to become a part of everyday, normal behavior,” Alex Rowady, chair of Clark County Community Foundation, said in a statement. “This is a timely issue and the voices of our community members, students and faculty need to be heard. As Clark County Community Foundation, we are proud to sponsor this discussion and work to provide funding that can truly impact our entire community.”

Individuals, families and groups have the option to host a table discussion of their own or join the discussion held by the Clark County Community Foundation on March 29 at 5:30 p.m. sponsored by the Winchester Opera House.

About Lashana Harney

Lashana Harney is a reporter for The Winchester Sun. Her beats include schools and education, business and commerce, Winchester Municipal Utilities and other news. To contact her, email or call 859-759-0015.

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