City Schools considers the return of sworn police to schools as community members call for greater transparency at meeting on school violence | #schoolsaftey

Parents, teachers and Charlottesville High School students called for better transparency from Charlottesville City Schools at a public meeting the district held last week. 

City Schools hosted the listening session on Thursday for community members to come together to unpack the ongoing violence within Charlottesville High School. About 300 people attended the event in person, with another 275 streaming the session from Zoom.

This is the first City Schools-led listening session held following a teacher “sickout” that led to three days of canceled classes at CHS. The nonprofit community group Charlottesville United for Public Education hosted a listening session that included teachers, students and community members on Nov. 20.

As part of the meeting, attendees broke out into small groups to discuss the events and potential solutions further. CCS employed the help of volunteers from the overall Charlottesville community to lead the discussions. City School prohibited all media from entering both in-person and virtual breakout rooms.

Improved transparency was at the top guest’s comments on Thursday. The volunteer facilitators discussed how the lack of communication between the school district and students and families about the fights causes distrust among students and families, leaving them to lean on rumors for any semblance of information regarding fighting. 

“We need the district to be more transparent,” said one parent. “We appreciate knowing what the national trends are, but we want to see our local trends.”

Another parent said they wanted to see more accountability from the school system, and better acknowledgement of the systemic issues — or how intolerances such as racism and classism play a role within Charlottesville institutions — that may be affecting the students who are doing most of the fighting at CHS and also how they are disciplined. 

“We need the bad news, we don’t need the sugar coating. The bad news isn’t a bad thing,” another parent said. “Sharing the bad news is good because it gets us to conversations like this.”

University of Virginia psychology professor Channing Matthews hosted one of about a dozen breakout groups. She said her group mainly comprised parents and students. After listening to them, she said it was clear to her that the students needed to be more centered when discussing any possible changes made to the school.

It’s one thing to discuss the transparency needed from City Schools, as many of the parents said in Matthews group, but she thinks it’s important for all stakeholders in the school division to ensure students have people, such as trauma-informed support personnel, to go to after events like the major fights  happen.

“I think that one thing that needs to happen is more conversations about what actually happens. What was the experience? Why did the fight start all of those things? I think students need to be very much centered in that conversation,” said Matthews. “There are a lot of adults that are talking in the room, but still it’s like, are [student’s] voices prioritized? And this is because they’re the ones that are having this experience.”

More goes on within CHS than fights, Maggie Heaphy, a senior at CHS, told Charlottesville Tomorrow. Both in and out of school, she’s tried to move the conversation away from the small group of students who are at the center of the fights to what the school is lacking overall, such as a diverse and supportive staff, she said.

As with what many of the parents and teachers said at Thursday’s meeting, students want to feel listened to and heard, said Heaphy. 

“Why do people not feel safe in the classrooms?” said Heaphy. “I think representation is a big part of it, and I think it’s about feeling comfortable in your community and in your school, and I think that’s what leads to a lot of it.”

The school system also used the event as a way to inform the community of immediate changes coming to CHS, and receive additional comments from those who attended the event. 

Kim Powell, chief operating officer for City Schools, said the school division will look into filling in vacancies for additional care and safety assistant and school safety officers, or unarmed safety personnel at the school who have aided in breaking up physical fights, and hiring more teachers and substitute teachers. 

“Safety and security have always been a continuous improvement process,” said Powell.

Additionally, City Schools will add a series of infrastructural improvements to the high school. Both CHS and Buford Middle School will have gender neutral bathrooms with increased privacy, as some of the fights — among other incidents such as students vaping — have occurred in the bathroom. For CHS, two student bathrooms will be converted to the new model. Construction is set to begin summer 2024, according to the presentation.

Students at the high school may see metal detectors and more police presence in schools, but the City Schools are still “in conversation” of whether or not — and if so, how — they will implement either addition, said Powell on Thursday night. In 2020, CCS removed school resource officers, police officers who are stationed in schools, from its schools and dissolved its memorandum of understanding with the Charlottesville Police Department in response to anti-police brutality protests that occurred that year. 

Since 2020, CCS haven’t announced bringing the officers back, but are in the works of “revisiting” their previous MOU, according to the slides shown on Thursday night. There have been challenges that have resulted from the shift in relationship between City Schools and CPD, said Powell.

For example, the school division’s SRO used to communicate issues with the police department directly through radio, but after ending their MOU, the police are alerted through phone calls and other forms of messaging, which can take longer. Charlottesville police have also found it difficult to manage and understand any potential connections between fights inside and outside the schools. Some of the fights that have happened in CHS are linked to other violence happening within the city, said Powell. 

Powell said, if City Schools were to bring a police officer back into the school, then both the district and the police department would “create purposeful assignments and routines to mitigate surveillance, because we [CCS] know how easy it is trip over each other and not understanding each other’s terminology, processes, and requirements by each agency.”

At the end of the listening session, City Schools encouraged guests to attend their next School Board meeting.

The Charlottesville City School Board will meet at the CHS Media Center Thursday at 5 p.m. If you would like to give public comment in person, here’s how. If you wish to speak virtually, register in advance at this link to join the Zoom meeting. A School Board member will ask if there’s anyone watching who would like to speak at the start of the meeting.


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