School Security Update

Spencer Schultz and Jenna Vespi

Editor-in-Chief and Producer

“This is not a drill,” said Principal Paul Gasparini over the loudspeaker on Tuesday, March 13 around 10:40 am. Mr. Gasparini initiated a Hold in Place for 10 minutes in response to a “generalized and nonspecific” threat written in the girls’ bathroom, according to a statement from Jamesville-DeWitt Central School District. After examining the graffitti, police determined it was safe to resume the school day; however, administration is still conducting an internal investigation. The event on March 13 is J-DHS’s second threat of the school year.

This made more real the fact that there have been over a dozen school shootings in the first two months of 2018 一 about one school shooting per week, according to CNN. Since the school shooting in Parkland, Fla. more than a month ago, school safety and security has remained at the forefront of both nationwide and local debate, and Jamesville-DeWitt High School is no exception.

Nine days after the devastating shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, J-DCSD Superintendent Dr. Alice Kendrick addressed a letter to parents of students within the district regarding the state of our school’s security.

“As the nation and state struggle with finding solutions to stop this horrific and repetitive violence, J-D will begin a comprehensive review of all student and school safety policies and procedures,” Dr. Kendrick said. The District-Wide Safety Team, as well as the individual Building Level Safety Team, is planned to lead this evaluation. English teacher Joe DeChick is on both of these teams. At the recent District-Wide Safety Team, only half of the agenda was covered, due to the very open and forward-moving conversations that arose. “There are so many issues to tackle, and to Dr. Kendrick’s credit, she did not rush the agenda. She made it clear that she wanted to hear from everyone and that she wanted to be sure that everyone felt they could speak freely and openly,” said Mr. DeChick.

On Monday, March 5, the Board of Education held their regularly scheduled meeting in which school security was discussed. Around 50 community members were in attendance, including parents and students. There was a lively discussion centered around the updates that J-D school buildings need to make in order to keep students safe in the 21st century.

Some steps have already been taken towards making the high school more secure. Typically, there are two entrances open to J-DHS students during the start of the day: the Main Foyer for students dropped off by bus and for seniors driving to school, and the Main Gym Foyer for juniors parked in the lower lot. When students returned to J-DHS on Feb. 26 after Winter Break, however, they found that the doors to the Main Gym Foyer were locked, in order to meet the district’s “single point of entry” policy.

Administration has also taken a stronger stance on the school’s bathroom policy, reminding teachers that all students must sign out to go to the bathroom, which may not be done during the first or last 10 minutes of class.

Dr. Kendrick also emphasized in her letter that increased security should not be the only precaution taken. “Preparedness for a potential act of violence or other emergency is critically important, but is not the only aspect that needs to be addressed,” she said.

“Repeatedly, these events are perpetrated by troubled individuals who feel disenfranchised and isolated from their community, individuals who lack meaningful relationships with caring adults or their peers,” added Dr. Kendrick. Dr. Kendrick promised to assess the actions J-D can take as a community to “strengthen those all-important relationships” and to determine what additional supports can be provided to students struggling with mental illness.

Already, J-DHS has taken strides to ensure that our school is a strong and supportive community toward all students. The Positivity Project, introduced to J-DHS this January, endeavors to strengthen relationships and foster an uplifting school environment through their motto that “#OtherPeopleMatter.” Each week, teachers will highlight a different character strength to build this strong community.

Though several actions have been taken by administration to ease worries over school safety, many J-DHS students have felt compelled to take the issue into their own hands.

 

J-DHS Student Government held an open forum on Feb. 28 to hear from concerned students who wanted to respectfully voice their opinions on the topic. Over 100 students were in attendance. Mr. Gasparini has been hard at work forming a Student School Safety Team comprised of any interested students.

Students were planning to walkout on March 14 for 17 minutes, exactly a month after the tragedy in Parkland, to honor each of the lives lost. However, student awoke that morning to news of a school cancelation.

In spite of this, a group of J-DHS students protested outside of Rep. John Katko’s office in downtown Syracuse. “We were all really upset and prepared to make sure our voices were heard even if we weren’t at school. If we continue to say the same thing over and over again someone will have to listen eventually,” said senior Alice Woods, one of the students who protested. “They can close our schools but they can’t close our mouths,” read one of the signs created by Woods.

Around 200 students held a walk out on March 15, the day school resumed. In addition to the walk out that took place last week, seniors Danielle Jaffe and Will Upton are organizing a school-wide walkout on April 20, the nineteenth anniversary of Columbine.

With many issues still present within our district’s buildings, discussions on this topic are far from over. “Students have done an amazing job of advocating for their own security and for their peers’ and classmates’ security, so that they can focus on what’s important in school, and that’s academics, activities, and having a productive school environment,” said Mr. Gasparini. Mr. Gasparini also says that he is proud of how J-DHS students and faculty have handled the situation. “We are J-D!”