Feeling Safe at School
It should go without saying that guns have no place in Saint Paul Public Schools, or any school for that matter. But we know that guns and other weapons have been found and apprehended at more than one of our schools this year, and many times before that. For our students and staff who have had to go on lockdown, at some schools more than once, it is scary, frustrating, and unfair to feel unsafe in the place where you go to work and learn every day.
The fact that these incidents seem to be happening more often is alarming. Similar situations have been reported in Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Indiana, New York, Texas, and here in the Twin Cities in the last week alone. I first want to recognize the amazing work of our SPPS school safety teams who have responded to every situation swiftly and ensured that no one has gotten hurt or worse. Our school support liaisons, community liaisons, intervention specialists and other school staff are trained to respond to crises and keep everyone in the building safe, calm and supported during and after any incident. I cannot thank them enough for their preparedness and ability to diffuse intense situations whenever and wherever they arise.
We also know that school safety extends beyond those folks who have security or safety in their job titles. Creating a safe school climate is everyone’s collective responsibility, and that work begins long before an incident occurs. Having high expectations for both students and staff, holding each other accountable, knowing and following district policies and procedures, and being engaged and aware of what’s happening both within the school and in the community are essential. Building trust and a positive school climate takes time, intentionality, and everyone working together, with strong support and guidance from dependable and trusted leaders.
This responsibility also has to include people from the community at large. Parents, community members and organizations, law enforcement, elected officials and others play important roles in the safety of our schools and young people. Guns are coming into schools from students’ homes and neighborhoods. As long as students can access weapons in the community, we must remain vigilant by communicating expectations and following all protocols when there are any threats to anyone’s safety.
Over the past several weeks, SPPS administrators, Board members, union leaders, faith leaders and others have been meeting with staff, students and families about the weapons that students have brought to Harding High School. In situations like these, there are often more questions than answers, and it’s important to keep our ultimate goal at the center of every conversation, which is to ensure the safety of everyone in our schools.
The overlapping crises that many of our young people are experiencing are more than any one of us can solve alone. I, members of our district and building leadership teams, community leaders and the Saint Paul Police Department are all taking steps to address this problem and its root causes. As a staff member, you can play a role by being aware of your surroundings and what’s happening with your students and colleagues, talking to your school safety teams, sending tips and encouraging others to do the same through the SPPS Tip Line, and being familiar with the SPPS Rights and Responsibilities Handbook.
If you have concerns about your safety or the safety of others at school, please reach out to your principal, supervisor, security staff or me directly at any time. You can also talk to your administrator if you are interested in joining your school safety team and becoming more involved in your school’s safety plan.
Joe Gothard, Superintendent