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School Board

Natrona County school board members listen to comments from the public during an Oct. 9 meeting. Board members faced heavy criticism Monday following allegations that a Kelly Walsh High School freshman was waterboarded by other students.

Alan Rogers, Star-Tribune

When thinking about school safety, what often comes to mind is gun violence prevention: metal detectors, armed teachers, bulletproof windows and doors that lock from the inside. But there’s much more that goes into the task of ensuring student safety. The framework for school security should include tangible measures, like metal detectors or police presence. But it should also include a widespread approach that takes into consideration the overall well-being of each student and how that affects the larger issue of safety.On Monday night, the Natrona County School District unveiled its 10-point plan to improve school safety district-wide. The plan appears to take a comprehensive approach to shoring up security and providing a model that all schools will use.

And it’s promising, to be sure.

A common theme throughout the plan is an emphasis on improving communication between the district and staff, parents and the rest of the community. After the district’s poor handling of the allegations of waterboarding on the Kelly Walsh wrestling team three months ago, we’re glad to see they’re learning the value of transparency.

Streamlining communication between staff and district officials will increase efficiency in responding to threats and ensure that school staff is on the same page as they deal with various safety issues. And applying a consistent standard to how the district communicates with parents and the community at large will help foster trust and give parents peace of mind.

The plan also includes a move to double the number of school response officers from two to four, a much needed increase. Currently, the two officers serve the entire district and its approximately 12,000 students, which leaves a single officer responsible for 6,000 children. And while two additional officers still won’t get that ratio to where it should be, it’s a huge step in the right direction.

Because if it comes down to it, a trained police officer is a far better choice than an English teacher for defending students against an armed intruder.

The funding for the additional officers falls on both the district and the city, and the district has promised to budget for its half of the cost. So we urge the City Council to make room in the city’s budget to accommodate the officers. The Council recently passed a resolution calling for improving focus on school safety; now is the time for them to put their money where their mouth is.

Other areas of the plan include “social and emotional programs,” in addition to metal detectors and other security enhancements. And this is great. Because threats to student safety and well-being aren’t limited to school shooters and intervention strategies can reduce risk for that kind of violence as well as other ongoing threats to mental and emotional health.

The district’s plan includes a top-down review of its bullying policies, which will hopefully address the widespread complaints of bullying, including complaints of racial discrimination.

And that’s a key element, because the foundation of school safety should be inclusivity; without an actionable plan to reduce student-student bullying and harassment, the district will be hard-pressed to eliminate threats and foster a safe school environment. It won’t be an easy fix, but if the district truly wants to overhaul its security framework, it’s got to face the bullying epidemic head-on.

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