Albemarle, Charlottesville Schools Address Student Safety

February 21, 2013

School safety was the focus of a forum Thursday night where the community got to hear about what is being done to protect students at Charlottesville City Schools and Albemarle County Public Schools.

Dewey Cornell, a UVa. professor and expert on school violence and prevention, opened the discussion by saying, statistically, students are safe at school. He says events like the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School can increase anxiety, but told the crowd more violence occurs in restaurants than it does in classrooms or school hallways.

Cornell says when a crisis does occur, it is because prevention failed.

School administrators and police chiefs from Charlottesville and Albemarle County talked about their combined efforts for both crisis intervention and what they are doing to help prevent violence.

School leaders cited safety drills, adding hundreds of security cameras to school buses, modifying crisis plans annually, increasing the number of staff trained to deal with mental health issues and implementing an anonymous system for reporting bullying as some of the ways they are trying to prevent violence.

After the presentations, the panel answered questions submitted by the audience in writing, but some parents were upset with the controlled-question format when their concerns were not brought up by the moderator.

"They were clearly filtered selectively, and I really find that counter productive and really frustrating to the community instead of an open forum that I thought would take place tonight," said Charlottesville resident John Rudder.

Some parents said not enough is being done to enforce the rules already in place like registering guests before they enter the school buildings. Another parent said her repeated attempts to report bullying have been ignored.

"When there are situations that are out in the community and they haven't been resolved, sometimes they come up to the surface in a forum like this," said Albemarle County assistant superintendent Matt Haas. "It really is our duty as school officials, as people who are trusted with the public good, to try to resolve those as quickly as we can."

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