Report: Community Conversation about Safety, August 2018
There is nothing more important than a safe and healthy school and community for every student, employee, family and patron.
A truly safe environment is only possible when we all work together -- a team of partners and neighbors -- to understand risk factors, identify opportunities, and collaborate to find meaningful solutions to reduce violence and increase mental health supports in our schools and community.
As 2018 continued to bring an increase of school and community violence around the country, as well as emotional dialogue in both traditional and social media spaces, Eudora Schools leaders invited partners from the Eudora Police Department, Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center and Douglas County Sheriff’s Department to facilitate a community conversation on March 26 in the Eudora High School gymnasium.
District families and patrons were invited to attend, and some 100 individuals participated in feedback sessions and small group conversations with leaders representing law enforcement, mental health and the school district. Simple questions were asked to better understand Eudora citizens’ perceptions of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to ensuring safety in our schools and community.
This report summarizes the feedback, organizing it into these four categories: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats, as understood by each of the partner agencies.
Generally speaking, feedback from participants indicated that the event itself was a sign of the greatest strength -- an open dialogue with committed community partners. There was broad agreement that ensuring a safe and healthy community must be approached in a way that weaves together school policies and practices, law enforcement and mental health services. Other strengths shared in the small group discussions included:
- Positive presence of law enforcement at school (school resource officer) and at student activities and events.
- Strong communication and relationship between law enforcement and school district leaders.
- Safety and crisis procedure training of school district employees and emergency drills and/or preparation with students
- Watch D.O.G.S presence at Eudora Elementary School
- Communication from the schools and school district to students’ families, especially during an emergency
- Variety of extra-curricular activities to engage students, including those who aren’t interested in sports
- Student-led parent/teacher conferences (October 2017) engaged high school families in new, positive ways
- Teachers and staff members make relationships with students a priority, helping students and parents feel comfortable reaching out for help and asking questions.
- Certain security features at the schools (locking pods, buzz-in at EES and EMS, planned improvements at EHS)
- Supportive resources about safety available on the district website
- Mental health and the importance of support is more normalized in the schools than it used to be
- General familiarity with Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center and its services
The most important weaknesses in the work toward safe schools and community reflect limited resources. Whether additional officers in schools, more comprehensive mental health supports at school and in the community, additional facility security measures in schools -- the reality of tight agency budgets is perhaps the clearest weakness in this effort. Specific weaknesses identified were:
- There should be more WRAP workers in district schools, at least one per campus.
- One school resource officer to serve the entire school district is inadequate
- Career counselors versus mental health professionals and a shortage of referrals for professional mental health services outside of school
- Lack of technology collaboration; dispatch/officers cannot see school camera footage in real time
- Difficult to communicate the district’s crisis plans in a way that reassures parents, without compromising standards of safety and security
- Lack of digital option to report troubling behavior to district officials
Feedback in each discussion group yielded a variety of ideas to explore to further improve safety in schools. Successful implementation of these opportunities will rely largely on continued partnerships and focused collaboration with Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, the Eudora Police Department and the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department. Many of these possible opportunities also will require an addition of resources to one or more agencies, including funding. Opportunities identified during the event include:
- Better communication in Eudora about the services offered by Bert Nash
- Re-opening of satellite Bert Nash office in Lawrence
- Including Bert Nash personnel and/or information in back-to-school events
- Training and encouraging teachers to lead mindfulness exercises in school
- Greater mental health presence in law enforcement operations
- Training for school district employees in trauma-informed care
- Events and/or guest speakers to support parents -- bullying, warning signs, social media
- Possible grants to help fund added law enforcement and/or mental health initiatives
- Explore common household-type supplies that could improve classroom safety in a crisis (eg., wasp spray and firehose sleeves for door hinges)
- More frequent surveying of student experience / perceived climate
- Leadership / kindness programs for students
- Continue to focus on supporting students and families during transition from elementary to middle school, middle to high school
- Use of “tip line” in mobile app
The factors that threaten safe schools and community are many, and social scientists regularly identify the role played by such issues as the unlawful use of weapons, retraumatization in the media, copycat violence, unmet mental health needs, physical and mental abuse, drug and alcohol abuse and social isolation. A community also must consider and plan for such safety threats as severe weather, unsafe driving, and hazardous material spills. The following specific threats were mentioned by participants in the community conversation:
- Safe routes to school, especially K-10 bridge and intersection adjacent to Eudora High School
- Lack of broad, clear understanding about the specific services Bert Nash offers
- Accessibility to resources in Lawrence -- transportation, lack of evening appointments
- Desensitization among kids and adults about death and violence
- Format of some campuses, including entries and glass
- Open campus when EHS students can leave during lunch
- Lack of strict security (not showing ID, for example) when picking up a child on a normal school day
- In-school communication during an emergency, including gaps in intercom capabilities
- Multiple doors in each school, possible to be propped
- Failure of Proposition 1 will limit funding for needed mental health supports
We are fortunate to live and serve in a community that is committed to safe and healthy schools through open communication and meaningful partnerships. While we are challenged to adapt and meet ever-changing needs and demands, collaboration between neighbors, partners and leaders is the key to keeping our schools and community as safe and healthy as possible -- for everyone who calls Eudora home.