By Leilani Haywood
Tribune Reporter

The Lee’s Summit Police Department and Lee’s Summit R-7 School District co-hosted A Community Conversation on School Safety forum at Lee’s Summit City Hall council chambers on April 25, 2018. Police Chief Travis Forbes opened the discussion by saying, “We don’t want our children learning in a maximum security prison and we have tough decisions to make to as to how we protect our students.” Forbes led the forum with Lee’s Summit R-7 School Superintendent Dr. Dennis Carpenter; Dr. Rexanne Hill, director of Student Services; Ryan Hall, Supervisor of Safety and Environmental Services and Sergeant Chris Depue, Lee’s Summit Police Department Public Information Officer.

Police Chief Travis Forbes led the forum with Lee’s Summit R-7 School Superintendent Dr. Dennis Carpenter

Mayor Bill Baird greeted the community and said, “I’ve had the privilege of being on the school board. When I was in the school district we talked about every student being our kid. This culture of collaboration you’re role modeling tonight is exactly what we need.” The school district partners with the LSPD, ReDiscover and Lee’s Summit Cares to create and implement policies related to school safety such as bullying, mental health issues and suicide prevention. Approximately 80 people attended the forum according to a statement from the Lee’s Summit School District.

Hill and Hall gave a presentation on the school district’s safety program and took questions from the audience and over Facebook live. The questions were also answered by Carpenter and Forbes. Carpenter noted that recent legislation related to bullying is important to make sure the district is compliant but the focus should be on the listening to the student.
“What we have to be careful is to not allow to get caught up in the process that we forget the fundamental piece which is hearing the person who is being bullied,” he said. “I believe we did a better job hearing the facts of the incident instead of making certain that we didn’t do anything wrong. We can lose sight that someone needs to be heard.” He was applauded for that comment.

See something, say something
Hill said the anonymous tip hot line to report concerns has been helpful. “A family can report via text, email, web or phone,” she said. “As soon as a report is made, an email notification is sent to the teacher and the administration has the ability to respond to the reporter. As part of the reporting in training, we talk about if you see something, say something.”

The district implemented the Lee’s Summit Schools Campus Crime Stoppers Tips Line at (816) 986-1450 for callers to anonymously report thefts, bullying, vandalism, assault, drugs, weapons and other incidents. Parents and students can also report concerns via the SafeSchools Alert system via text or online.
Hill told a story of how she noticed at a local gas station that the lights were dimming off and on. “I dialed the non-emergency number for the police department to let them know something may be going on,” she said. “They called me back to say thank you for checking but the person was fine although they were having some trouble. Bystanders, parents, friends, anyone can play a critical role in prevention. Earlier reporting allows for earlier interventions.”

Guns in school
Lee’s Summit school staff receive training in being a first responder, as well as Active Shooter/Intruder Response training through Strategos International. Hall said school shootings were not a recent phenomenon. “In 1754 was the first reported school shooting so this is not something new,” he said. “Columbine changed the game on how we train and how we drill.”
Hill said that the district follows policies and procedures when a student violates the Safe School Act by bringing a gun to school. “Each situation is different. Policies and procedures are followed according to what has been guided,” she said.
Dr. Carpenter said, “Each time an incident occurred with firearm at school, that firearm was retrieved from home. If you’re going to have a firearm, leave it at home.”

School safety strategy
The school district has a six student resource officers that rotate through the middle schools and high schools, and four DARE officers. According to the district’s School Safety web site, the district spent more than $2.6 million on facility improvements, new cameras and replacement and repairs of related equipment. School entries have been remodeled to regulate visitor access. Staff are also required to wear identification badges that include photographs.
Going forward, Carpenter said he plans to roll out a mentoring program for students in Fall 2019 and is considering making Election Day a holiday for the 2019-2020 school year. “One thing research suggests that we can all be a part of is a high quality mentoring program,” he said. “We can all choose to be involved in. One adult engaging with one kid for one hour per week can change that kids life prospects.”

Building a relationship and connecting with the student is a cornerstone of the district’s safety strategy. “We talk a lot about relationships.” said Hill. “Everyone in the room has a special connection with someone at the school. Often times meet with kids or talk to our kids and ask them, ‘who is your go-to for advice?’ Our teachers, school counselors talk about building relationships. We talk about ReDiscover, Lee’s Summit Cares which are some great organizations. But at the end of the day what we all want is acceptance, inclusion and validation.”