School safety forum leaves students with unanswered questions

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Following the March 14 national student walkout that included 622 DGS student participants, DGS students and staff met for a discussion regarding school safety during the March 19 late start. Attending this forum allowed students to earn credit for the one-hour detention they received from participating in the walkout.

Two hundred seventy six students attended the forum and received credit for their detention, leaving 346 students to serve their traditional detentions by Friday, March 23.

Many students were under the original impression that the “discussion” that Associate Principal Karen Taylor’s email described would include a question and answer portion in which students in the audience would be able to voice their concerns. However, the panel was never opened to questions from the audience.

This is the flyer Taylor sent to students on March 14 following the walkout.

The discussion began with an introduction from Associate Principal Omar Davis, followed by a scripted presentation by DGS students. The presentation covered communication, involvement, awareness, safety concerns and prevention measures students can take.

Taylor did a live walk-through of the anonymous alerts system, and DGS Activities Director Jennifer Martinez shared her experience at the safety summit.

The forum was scheduled to take place from 8-9 a.m. However, Taylor dismissed students to swipe stations outside of the doors at 8:40 a.m. The stations tracked students as they exited the forum to ensure that they attended the entire hour. Once students swiped, the detention they received from the walkout was cleared.

Senior Max Schmidt-Bailey sat near the back of the auditorium with his hand raised during the last few minutes of the presentation, catching many audience members’ attention. His signal went unanswered by those on stage.

Schmidt-Bailey was also one of the five leaders of the walkout.

Schmidt-Bailey later tweeted out his reaction to the forum.

“Thank you @DGSActivities and @henrythiele for NOT allowing any time during the school forum for students to ask questions or voice their opinions. Very telling of how involved the students were in this ‘forum’,” Schmidt-Bailey said.

Others followed Schmidt-Bailey’s lead by taking to their own social media accounts to voice their concerns.

A sample of the posts students shared on Twitter. Students have continually posted since the March 14 walkout.

As of the end of the school day on March 19, Henry Thiele and DGS Activities have not responded to the tweets.

Junior Grace Curry arrived to the discussion with a notebook she had recorded questions in and the sign from the walkout tucked under her arm.

“When they said it was a forum, I assumed that there would be a discussion, not just people talking to me, so I was very disappointed in that sense because I have things to say,” Curry said.

The presentation was organized into five points, each addressing different aspects of DGS’ strengths and weaknesses regarding safety and what students and administration can do to make DGS safer. For Curry, these points did not cover her concerns.

“Being more compassionate and carrying your student ID isn’t going to change gun control; it isn’t going to stop gun violence. These tips and things were great about creating a better school community, but these things aren’t relevant to helping gun laws and school shootings. It was good and it was reassuring, but it wasn’t change,” Curry said.

The panel on stage included Taylor, Martinez, Omar Davis and four sophomore and  seven junior DGS students. Nine of the students on the panel attended a school safety conference at Willowbrook High School following the Parkland school shooting.

“The students who were selected to go on the panel, they’re from a variety of different leadership organizations at our school. They were selected intentionally based upon their involvement,” Martinez said.

The March 12 summit at Willowbrook High School was a conference in which student leaders from 28 area high schools discussed different concerns regarding their school’s approach to safety.

Principal Ed Schwartz saw a forum as an opportunity for DGS students to voice their concerns and hear from students who attended the conference.

“Anybody who wants to come can share their ideas. Plus, that gives those kids we sent to that summit a couple weeks ago an opportunity to lead,” Schwartz said.

Junior MarcAnthony Smith was one of two students on the panel that did not attend the Willowbrook High School safety conference. He and junior Kelly Jankowski were invited to sit on the panel due to their involvement in organizing the student walkout. They also played an active role in communicating with administration during the walkout planning.

Smith listens closely during the school safety forum.

Smith explained that while organizing the forum, students and the administration came to the conclusion that an open discussion would not be included in the schedule.

“A Q&A did come up in the planning for this, but we wanted it to go as smoothly as possible, and we came to the conclusion that a Q&A might be a little hectic and just getting all that info at once might have been a little too much,” Smith said.

Jankowski left the forum excited about the new student safety committee that would be coming out of the events.

“It’s a great way for people to get involved in things that they might not have expected when they first came to DGS,” Jankowski said.

Taylor introduced an electronic exit slip to students that they could fill out at the conclusion of the forum. The slip included a place for students to type out any questions or comments they had about school safety and a place to rate from 1-5 how helpful they believed the forum was.

“Unfortunately an hour is just not enough time to be able to [ask questions], and that’s why I wanted to emphasize a lot that there was the exit slip, which is allowing students to have voice and then for them to be able to state whether or not they’re interested in participating on a student safety committee in the future because I think that we all need to have more conversations about this,” Martinez said.

We have 20 minutes. It was 40 minutes of just them talking,” Curry said in response to the forum ending early.

Junior Matt Straus signs a poster pledging school safety after the forum.

Junior Anthony Grammich attended the forum in place of a detention and explained that while he did not have any questions planned to ask, he would have been interested in what others had to say.

“They could have made time for it; it’s an important thing to do,” Grammich said.

“[The swipe stations] took about five minutes,” Grammich said.

Two hours after the conclusion of the forum, Taylor sent an email to students with a Google Form attached. DGS students can submit questions and suggestions about school safety and indicate if they are interested in serving on a student safety committee.

“Your responses will be reviewed by the Student Safety Committee and District Safety Committee.  They will help us to analyze safety procedures, establish priorities, and implement measures to provide best practice in school safety,” Taylor said in the email.

Instead of directing her tweets at administration, senior Savanah Duax encouraged students via Twitter to attend the board meeting being held tonight, March 19, at DGS at 7:30 p.m.

“I’m encouraging other students to go [to the board meeting] because I feel like we were misinformed that we would be able to ask questions about the safety of our building, and the board meeting is where we can raise those questions, if you really have an opinion on student safety you should go to the board meeting,” Duax said.