On March 28, Henrico County Public Schools hosted a public forum to hear concerns from parents, students, and teachers about school safety in the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting. The forum was prompted by an influx of concern and activism following the Florida shooting as well as a Henrico school board meeting with a strong student presence to speak about school safety.
All attendees were handed a booklet with safety information and a paper with the agenda for the meetings. The forum then started with a video about HCPS’s existing school safety measures. Following that, Superintendent Kinlaw introduced leaders from Henrico Police, Henrico Fire, and the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office. They each talked about their partnership with the schools and how they react to crises. After that, attendees were separated into four focus groups based on the color on their nametag. The focus groups had a facilitator and a recorded to write down ideas.
The groups were really where the conversation happened. The conversation was split into five categories, each lasting eight minutes. The categories were: building security, relationships, social and emotional student support, safety protocols and procedures, and partnerships. In each category, members were given time to express their opinions for safety in relation to the suggested topics. The staff member that recorded the conversations posted posters at the end with ideas from each topic. Forum attendees were then given stickers to “vote” on ideas that they thought were most important.
The discussions were constructive, with a variety of viewpoints being expressed. The dominant rift in viewpoint in one of the focus groups was between the use for counseling and intervention programs verses securing the school building and access. Since it comes down to an issue of funding, different attendees had predominately those two different viewpoints as to where funding and resources should be directed to keep the schools safe.
As a recap of one of the focus groups, here are some of the ideas that received the most votes at the end:
In “building security,” the ideas/concerns that received the most votes were: concerns over doors being held open for visitors, ID being required to be shown for entrance, and permanent school resource officers so they could build relationships with students.
In “relationships,” the idea/concerns that received the most votes were: school facilitated gun safety discussions and appeal processes (more direct parent/admin communication) for bullying.
In “social and emotion student support,” the ideas/concerns that received the most votes were: additional counselors at schools, more overall staff support at schools, and providing cognitive development information to parents.
In “safety protocols and procedures,” the ideas/concerns that received the most votes were: finding a balance between a welcoming school environment and securing buildings, different scenarios for safety drills, and access control for entrance to buildings.
In “partnerships,” the ideas/concerns that received the most votes were: providing information for low cost mental health services for families, permanent school resource officers in elementary schools, and the use of veterans and other volunteers for guarding of school facilities.
Photos of the meeting and ideas. Photos: Mark Graff.