Every child has the right to attend school free of threats. Tragically, two terrible incidents during the 2013-2014 academic year in Kansas City Public Schools demonstrate that there is serious work to be done to protect our students across the community.
As board chairman and superintendent, we are responsible for fostering a safe, stable and nurturing academic and social environment for our students. We want you to know we are confronting this head-on and challenge every community member to join our effort to address the deep and wide roots of student-on-student violence.
This school year, we have increased safety with added security officers, cameras and adult monitoring, locked down more isolated areas of our buildings, provided training for staff and students, engaged students in this improvement process and launched a student mentorship program. Beginning with seven schools and eventually reaching all buildings, we are installing a cutting-edge integrated security system of intrusion alarms, cameras and keycard door controls.
We also launched thorough administrative investigations following both incidents. This review found that policies were not followed. After reviewing responsibility at every level, we made the personnel and policy decisions necessary to ensure student safety. Confidentiality laws prevent us from sharing details, as we must protect the rights of students and personnel involved.
Moving forward, a special safety task force — of board members, staff, students, parents and community members — has been established to evaluate safety across the district. It will work with an independent firm to conduct secret, unannounced inspections. Our goal is to ensure that the district is doing everything possible to keep students safe. We will monitor and regularly report on our progress, and be accountable for making improvements.
We also need Kansas Citians to engage in a broader conversation. The scourge of sexual assault and student violence in schools is a community-wide issue.
A UN study revealed that 83 percent of middle and high school aged girls in the U.S. have experienced some form of sexual harassment in school. Barely a week goes by without another story about a young woman facing abusive and bullying behavior of classmates. Our community must address the culture that promotes violence and devalues our women and girls.
Addressing this issue requires each member of our community to commit to doing things differently. If you want to be part of the solution, please let us know by emailing our new task force at SafeKids@kcpublicschools.org. We need people who are willing to help do the heavy lifting.
We must teach our young men to view women differently. We must give our young women the tools and support they need. We must equip all our children to solve conflicts without resorting to violence.
As adults, we must teach our children by example to speak out against injustice and hate, the seeds of this destruction. We, as a community of progressive, passionate and caring people, must change the conversation for our young people.
Let’s work together to accomplish this goal. We must not fall short.
R. Stephen Green of Basehor, Kan., is the CEO/superintendent of Kansas City Public Schools. Jonathan Hile of Kansas City is chairman of the school district’s board of directors and is the chief operating officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters.