Superintendent’s advisory group unveils school safety recommendations

Nevada News

Add more school police officers. Require students to wear identification badges. Launch a rural patrol unit. Increase social-emotional learning in classrooms. Begin a virtual expulsion program.

These are some of the recommendations that emerged Wednesday from an advisory committee created by Clark County Superintendent Jesus Jara and charged with brainstorming ways to bolster school safety. The more than two dozen recommendations cover aspects related to the so-called hardening of schools via building enhancements as well as the community’s role in keeping guns out of the wrong hands.

Any school safety initiative, however, comes with a big caveat: money. The advisory committee didn’t put a price tag on its proposal. Jara called all the recommendations “critical and important,” but he identified 10 that might be most feasible initially based on budget projections.

Gov. Brian Sandoval has earmarked $78 million for school safety needs in his draft budget for the next biennium. That amount includes $16 million to hire more school-based social workers, $8 million for more school police officers and $25 million for a grant program that districts can use to make safety-related infrastructure improvements.

How much the district would receive hasn’t been determined, but with whatever extra revenue comes forward, Jara hopes to tackle the following recommendations first:

  • Post reports about every on-campus firearm incident on the Clark County School District’s website.
  • Make the anonymous reporting system known as SafeVoice a community-wide program.
  • Select a district employee to serve as a community liaison and work with the Mayor’s Faith Initiative on gun violence issues.
  • Provide crisis-response training for students and staff.
  • Require students to wear identification badges on breakaway lanyards.
  • Increase social-emotional learning among students.
  • Improve security cameras and install security-access doors at schools.
  • Expand the school district’s police force.
  • Create a unit of eight police dogs trained in firearm detection.
  • Hire experts to conduct a basic safety assessment of every school building.

Jara formed the advisory committee in September, days after an 18-year-old student was fatally shot outside Canyon Springs High School. The shooting stemmed from a neighborhood issue that spilled onto campus, but it occurred amid a spike in firearms found on school property.

Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara speaks during a school board meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Authorities have seized 11 firearms on Clark County school campuses so far this year, putting the district on a trajectory to possibly eclipse the 13 firearms recovered during the 2017-2018 academic year.

School officials also noted that Nevada had the third-highest homicide rate among states last year.

That’s why a chunk of the recommendations revolve around community outreach and gun education. The advisory group recommends the district launch a messaging campaign about responsible firearm storage and teach children the dangers and consequences of gun violence.

Fourth-graders, for instance, could be taught what to do if they encounter a firearm. It’s not a far-fetched scenario: Earlier this year, a 9-year-old brought an unloaded gun to an elementary school.

“This is an opportunity where we can embed some additional information so our students are provided with the appropriate information necessary to make the right choices,” said Jennifer Cupid-McCoy, who serves as the superintendent’s chief of staff.

But prevention isn’t just about children making the right choices. School officials and law enforcement authorities have been preaching the importance of safe and responsible gun ownership among adults as a simple way of reducing the odds that a gun winds up in possession of someone with ill intent.

So far this calendar year, Metro Police have received 2,032 reports of stolen guns — up from 1,960 such reports this same time last year.

Jara has urged parents to take a more proactive role in firearm storage, and he did so again Wednesday: “Lock the guns so then you limit the access.”

The recommendations also touch on another challenge facing school administrators — what to do with students who have committed a serious offense, such as bringing a weapon to school. The advisory group suggests moving toward a virtual expulsion model, in which students could stay connected to their home school but do coursework remotely while receiving counseling.

Jara expressed interest in the idea, acknowledging that “kids make mistakes” and may benefit from a continued relationship with their existing teachers and principal.

A string of school shootings earlier this year across the country amplified ongoing conversations about how to better protect students and staff. Sandoval created his own school safety task force shortly after the shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school. That task force concluded its work this fall and sent its recommendations to the governor as he was building the budget.

Jara, meanwhile, announced that the Clark County School District would begin randomly searching students to deter them from bringing weapons on campus. Those searches have begun at schools across the district.

The initiatives have sparked concern among some who argue students’ rights could be endangered in the process. The ACLU of Nevada objected to one recommendation — adding more school police officers — during the board meeting Wednesday. Rex Reed, the organization’s outreach coordinator, said the ACLU fears a heavier police presence at schools could jeopardize trust among students and staff while also increasing the likelihood of arrest for students in certain subgroups.

“Armed police presence unnecessarily brings more students into conflict with police and school staff,” Reed said. “It diminishes student trust in educators, undermines positive school climate and makes it difficult for educators to create a safe and supportive environment for students that is conducive to learning.”

The advisory group likely will remain active in some capacity — perhaps as a safety commission that meets quarterly to monitor the rollout of the recommendations. As for immediate next steps, Jara said he will begin working the ideas into his forthcoming strategic plan and budget for the next fiscal year.

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