Huntsville City Schools to host School Safety Engagement Forums, launches safety task force

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Thursday, district leaders said Huntsville City Schools will host a series of school safety engagement forums in response to a recent gun incident at an elementary school.

A second-grade student was accidentally shot in the hand on Monday when the child brought a gun to Blossomwood Elementary School.

"Lock them up," Superintendent Christie Finley said of firearms on Thursday. "This situation could have been avoided. I am very upset about it."

The Forums

The forums will be a way to talk to stakeholders including parents, around the entire district, to gather ideas for safety solutions. A new School Safety Task Force, for which which members have not yet been chosen, will use the input that comes out of these meetings to recommend changes to administrators, leaders said Thursday.

There will be a series of five stakeholder meetings: one for each district feeder pattern. The dates for the forums are as follows:

  • District 1: Wednesday, October 3, 2018 at Jemison High School from 5:30 PM -7 PM
  • District 2: Monday, October 15, 2018 at Lee High School from 5:30 PM -7 PM
  • District 3: Tuesday, October 2, 2018 at Grissom High School from 5:30 PM -7 PM
  • District 4: Wednesday, October 17, 2018 at Huntsville High School from 5:30 PM -7 PM
  • District 5: Monday, October 1, 2018 at Columbia High School from 5:30 PM -7 PM

The district says all forums will take place in the high school cafeterias, but the HHS meeting will be at the Freshman Academy Cafetorium.  Those forums will generate initial ideas and concepts for later review and analysis, the district said.

Participants will take on the following topics: parent involvement and accountability, school safety measures, government initiatives (local/state/federal), and awareness. School Campus Security Officer supervisors will be on hand for the discussion, leaders explained.

"Our mission here is to share ideas and concepts for enhancing school safety and parent accountability," said Jeffrey Wilson, Director of Operations. "We will bring out of that, one consolidated district list of topic areas for further review by the task force."

Leaders said the timeline on this information-gathering is aggressive:

Superintendent Christie Finley said having input from parents and community members is crucial to the district's next steps.

"It is important that we get stakeholder input. So at this point I don't plan on implementing any new policies," she said.

Clear Backpack Policy?

Finley's promise to hold off on new policies until the forums are complete and a recommendation is made means that the district's possible clear backpack policy is on hold, perhaps indefinitely.

That's good news for Laura Frame, who started an online petition to urge the district to reconsider its previously-discussed clear backpack idea.

"My first reaction was, that's not going to do anything. That's not going to solve anything," Frame told WHNT News 19 about clear backpacks. "Kids are resourceful. They will sneak things in."

She said she is concerned about some flaws with the idea, including privacy.

"I don't want everything in my kid's backpack on display," she stated.

Frame said she started the petition, which did well, because she wanted to be heard.

"I was like, "'You know what, they need to know how we feel,'" she said. "I really just hope that they take a lot of time and consider, and really research this, and see if it's worthwhile."

Finley said that is the plan for every option on the table.

The Task Force

Leaders said the district will select its members in November.

"It is critical that this task force have members from our religious communities, from all different areas of town. From local government, from all of our different emergency management agencies. It is very important to ensure diversity in this task force, because we want all voices to be heard," Wilson said.

The Student Safety Task Force will review a consolidated version of the community input from the engagement forums for a few months.

Then it will present its recommendations to the superintendent sometime toward the end of February, likely February 20, Finley said. Then, she will collaborate with the task force to make decisions about what to do next, and will present those ideas to the Huntsville City Schools Board of Education on March 7.

Parents say they are looking forward to providing feedback for the Student Safety Task Force to use.

"Any decision that needs to be made just needs to be thoughtful," said Frame. "For me, it's just very important that they listen to the parents, know that we do have concerns, and that some of us have alternate solutions or don't mind waiting to get something that will be effective in the long run."

Leaders have said that the task force is not just a one-time thing. It will continue to be a part of how Huntsville City Schools operates from this moment on.

"This becomes part of what we do now," Wilson said, "and going forward we will have periodic assessment and review with the School Safety Task Force of all the different areas that we are discussing."

Legislative Action

Superintendent Finley said another part of her plan to keep students safe may include the Alabama State Legislature.

"I'll actually be meeting, along with two other superintendents in surrounding areas, to meet with state Legislators and talk about our state moving toward child access prevention laws. There are some stats around the country that have that in place, Alabama does not. That is something I'd like to address because it is important that we have some protection in place," she stated.

Finley stated that she doesn't consider herself a political person, but this conversation may need to originate with her to get the ball rolling on changes that can keep kids safe.

"I ask parents to check their students' backpacks every night. Have conversations with your child," Finley urged. "It is not just a Huntsville issue. It is a nationwide issue."