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LHS and district work together to strengthen student-staff relationships, safety concerns continue

This side entrance to Lawrence High School includes a no weapons sign.

This side entrance to Lawrence High School includes a no weapons sign.

Aidin Manning

This side entrance to Lawrence High School includes a no weapons sign.

Aidin Manning

Aidin Manning

This side entrance to Lawrence High School includes a no weapons sign.

LHS and district work together to strengthen student-staff relationships, safety concerns continue

Activity third hour Thursday connects students with trusted adults in the building

Lawrence High School worked with the USD 497 mental health team on Thursday to connect students with adults in the school, even as LHS faced continued safety concerns.

Administrators confiscated a taser from a student Thursday after a staff member reported hearing it discharged, according to an email from the district Friday night. The taser came from home, and disciplinary action has been taken.

“At the request of the parent to dispose of it, a school administrator turned it over to a school resource officer,” said USD 497 communications director Julie Boyle in the email. “Police were not otherwise involved in this investigation because a taser doesn’t meet the statutory definition of a weapon. The student did not threaten or harm anyone with it, so this did not constitute criminal activity.”

Boyle later clarified that state statute does in fact include stun guns or tasers in its definition of weapons that are prohibited at schools.

“The state statute is broader than the federal or criminal laws,” Boyle wrote.

The number of security threats to the school have seemed to be mounting over the past week as two loaded guns were brought to school and police and administrators investigated a Free State High School student threatening on SnapChat to shoot an LHS student. However, Boyle wants the community to keep in mind that the district is also sending out more safety notifications than usual to provide an open line of communication.

“We do not notify staff and parents of all student disciplinary matters,” she said in the email to students and staff on Friday. “In light of the other unrelated safety issues that we have dealt with during the past week-and-a-half, however, we know that many rumors are circulating and open communication is key to dispelling rumors. If you hear of a concern, please ask about it, so we aren’t participating in the spread of rumors.”

School went on Thursday amid a background of classroom discussions about the numerous safety threats LHS faced this past week. Classes were canceled Friday because of snow. District mental health facilitator Jose Cornejo on Thursday said he was proud of the way students and staff responded to these trying circumstances.

“I also want to applaud how well the student body and the staff here has supported each other through this process,” Cornejo said. “I know sometimes it doesn’t feel like it’s there, but I think that people who rallied around each other are there to pick up and support each other through this process.”

The district worked with school administration to try to facilitate meaningful conversation by orchestrating a schoolwide activity third hour Thursday. The project was spearheaded by Cornejo. Students discussed questions concerning the importance of informing teachers about safety threats and ways to foster better relationships amongst students and staff. Students were then asked to write the name of a trusted adult in the building on a notecard if they knew any.

“Basically I worked with Dr. [Matt] Brungardt and Mr. [Mark] Preut on looking at how do we give teachers some tools to start a conversation about relationships within our building,” Cornejo said of the LHS principal and assistant principal. “A lot of research indicates that if students have a healthy relationship with just one significant adult it can make a difference in their social and emotional wellness at a school. It also gives them the perception of feeling safe at school.”

Cornejo is part of the district crisis response team that has been at LHS since Wednesday morning. The crisis response team is sent to support students and help manage their stress in times of turmoil.

“We had individuals meet with students throughout the day. We also had members check in with students around the building, so we had members walking the halls and walking by classrooms,” Cornejo said. “Some teachers took advantage of and appreciated the fact that someone stopped by and checked to see how things were going and students appreciated the fact that there were additional adults here to support them.”

The activity third hour, while meaning to cultivate relationships between students and staff, also prompted some serious conversations.

“We did our exercise and a lot of students expressed concern and fear, justifiably so,” film teacher Zach Saltz said. “And it wasn’t always a comfortable conversation, but it was a meaningful and important one.”

Some teachers, like social studies teacher Fran Bartlett, used the activity as a launching pad to discuss emergency preparedness.

“We talked about what to do in the event that there was a shooter or an intruder in the building,” Barlett said. “I told them a lot of the information that teachers had received in their ALICE training earlier this year and late last school year. We also talked about the idea of being able to confide in adults and the need to report if you know something.”

Sophomore Ai’isha Loufa-Monroe felt like this activity was a step in the right direction.

“I think it’s good we are opening a conversation about it in class, I felt good about that,” Loufa-Monroe said. “It also made me realize how scary this kind of thing is.”

Others, like junior Keaton Hoy, approve of the activity but feel like there still needs to be more long-term solutions put in place.

“I am glad that they’re doing something about it but part of me feels unnerved and upset that it has taken this long for us to do anything about it. It’s kind of annoying that it has taken several examples of an issue for us to even get a solution and not only that, it is going to last this week maybe the next week and then what?” Hoy asked. “So I feel I want to instead of just to feel comfortable for the short term, I want to know long term that we are going to make some serious changes that are absolutely necessary to make us all feel more secure.”

For the district, the activity on Thursday was just one of several steps they plan to take to address these issues, including a Community Conversation about Public Safety next Thursday, Feb. 21. As the activity demonstrated, cultivating relationships is a key priority of the district. This is why before school was cancelled on Thursday night, USD 497 superintendent Dr. Anthony Lewis decided to share a message of unity on Twitter in light of the events of the past week.

“Our promise to you is that we will work harder to create a culture where you have advocates supporting and cheering you on as you matriculate through this great district,” Lewis said in the Twitter message. “You matter!”

 

Students are encouraged to speak out and share safety concerns. Here are some ways they can do so:

  • Share concerns with school staff members.
  • Call the Douglas County Crime Stoppers hotline, 785-843-TIPS (8477).
  • Call the Kansas School Safety Hotline, 1-877-626-8203.
  • Call 911 in the case of an emergency.

While the district continued its response, Lawrence police also continued their work. Lawrence Police Officer Derrick Smith said information about the two students who brought guns to LHS has been passed on to the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office, which will determine if charges will be filed. He said both students were initially arrested.

In the first incident on Feb. 6, the firearm was loaded with a magazine and had a round in the chamber, Smith said. On Tuesday, the firearm was loaded but had no round in the chamber.

Like district officials, Smith stressed the importance of students speaking out.

“We do hope that if a student sees or hears of a firearm on campus they would report it to us or school administration,” Smith said. “Students usually have knowledge of these incidents before we do, so reporting them to us will help us find them if they are on campus.

Anahita Hurt and Alex Stark contributed to this report.

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