Parents, students raise their concerns about school safety

Recent school shootings are a big motivator behind a new safety committee that looks to create an environment where students can feel safe going to school every morning within one local district.

The Iowa City Community School District and school board have put together a new safety advisory committee make up of parent volunteers, principals, teachers and students.

Over the summer, the committee has been meeting twice a month but on Monday they held a public input meeting to see what exactly has parents and students concerned. Approximately 30 people worked in small groups outlying those concerns, many were directed at building access, mental health, and bullying.

School board member, Phil Hemingway, said the discussion to create such a group has been around since December but the recent school shootings have heightened the need for it. However, Hemingway said a study done by the district showed student concerns before the 2018 spring semester.

"We have to make sure that we provide a safe learning environment for our kids not only from outside threats but also in the buildings that they feel comfortable and welcomed," Hemingway said.

Hemingway said the school board wants to gauge how people feel about potential steps the district could take to make the schools safer.

"Hopefully, we get a read on the community’s interest for certain steps we might look at and steps going forward." he said.

Those that attended the meeting were given a sheet of paper asking questions such as how they feel about adding school resource officers or metal detectors. Both drew a list of pros and cons from attendees. One of the concerns was whether or not the officer would be armed. Many were in support of having an officer but added that an armed officer may have a negative impact on students and their sense of safety.

Among the parents, principals, and teachers in the meeting were also those would feel the effect the most, the students. 

"I know people who are terrified of school shootings and I also know people convinced that they’re going to happen," Mira Bohannan Kumar said. "That attitude makes it terrifying and makes it difficult to get up and start your day and think ‘I don’t know if I’m coming home’".

Bohannan Kumar, who is also apart of the committee, said on top of concern over school shootings, she believes mental health and bullying prevention should be a top priority.

"The thing about preventing student violence is increasing student welfare and allowing students to feel safe in all aspects in their education. I think that’s where we’re really getting at tonight," she said.

The committee will host an additional meeting on Tuesday (8/7) at the Iowa City Public Library at 5:30-6:30 p.m.. The feedback developed from the committee will later be presented to the school board in the upcoming fall semester for a temporary safety recommendation plan. Come the following spring, the committee plans to present a two-year plan for the district.

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