Five former Kansas City Public Schools students and recent graduates have been shot and killed in 2018. All were minorities. At least seven other current students have been injured by gunfire since August.
Their stories should shock and outrage this city. Instead, the response has been silence.
Antonio Jones was a straight-A student. The 18-year-old was shot and killed in July, two months after he graduated from Central Academy of Excellence. Just last week, 18-year-old Zyhame Jones was found shot to death in the middle of Sheffield Park on the city’s northeast side. He was four credits shy of graduating from high school.
In Kansas City, the violent deaths of teenagers are now met with a quiet resignation. But imagine that 12 Shawnee Mission School District students had been shot this year. What would the reaction be if this had happened in Overland Park or Blue Springs or Lee’s Summit?
Why haven’t these shootings spurred a community-wide commitment to reduce violent crime and protect Kansas City students?
Kansas City Public Schools Superintendent Mark Bedell said he couldn’t recall the loss of so many students in a calendar year — even in the much larger urban districts where he’s worked.
Kansas City Public Schools’ student population is about 15,570.
“How does that happen?” Bedell asked.
Poverty, economic disparity and a sense of hopelessness are contributing factors, Bedell said.
Still, “the amount of murders with a district this size in comparison to those districts is shocking,” he said. “I was a high school principal for three years in Houston in a pretty rough community, and I didn’t have a single kid in my school murdered. We constantly have to get our grief counselors inside our schools here. It’s sad.”
Bedell is working to address the issue by expanding the district’s Success Mentoring Program. That alone won’t solve the problem, though. Civic organizations, corporate leaders, elected officials and the philanthropic community must team up to develop innovative approaches to combat the violence that has disproportionally affected minority youth in Kansas City.
The bloodshed must stop, Bedell said. But district leaders can only do so much to curb the violence — particularly once students leave school and return to their neighborhoods.
“An unstable community only enhances violence,” he said.
Violence changes the culture of Kansas City schools. The district offers trauma support and grief counseling. But is that enough?
Annette Lantz-Simmons of the Center for Conflict Resolution doesn’t think so. The center’s employees teach conflict resolution skills in two of the district’s four high schools and in both middle schools. Staff worked in two other high schools in the district last year. The classes are just a small part of the equation. But Lantz-Simmons would like the grant community to be more heavily involved.
The goal should be to take the training to each school in the district. But that requires more funding.
“We have pushed to get some of the city’s biggest donors to pool their money together,” she said. “It needs to be a district-wide cultural shift.”
Lantz-Simmons is right. Reducing violence must be our collective priority, and that requires resources and a commitment from an array of local leaders.
Kansas City can’t effectively educate students if we can’t ensure their safety.