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Breaking up school violence: School staff respond as CCSD superintendent, community leaders outline new approach

Part of this newly announced plan is getting school principals on board with their messaging to families.
Published: Mar. 29, 2022 at 8:27 PM PDT
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LAS VEGAS, Nev. (FOX5) - On Tuesday, Superintendent of Clark County Schools, Jesus Jara, joined a group of community leaders including Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson to outline their latest approach for mitigating burgeoning campus violence. Now, CCSD school staff are telling FOX5 about the parts of the plan they feel are missing.

As FOX5 first told you, county officials say acts of violence on school campuses are increasing in intensity. Police echoed that sentiment. This school year alone, CCSD Police say they’ve confiscated 25 firearms from inside schools and reported about 3,000 assaults, batteries and fights, according to Chief Henry Blackeye. That’s why a press conference was called Tuesday morning.

“We want to work together to try and change the culture,” said Wolfson.

Part of this newly announced plan is getting school principals on board with their messaging to families. In coming weeks, Jara said principals will be made to remind families and students of the consequences of violence.

Jara added that physical altercations on campuses are considered a “major infraction.” Fighting that results in “significant campus disruption,” Jara said, will result in a recommended expulsion from school.

Students recommended for expulsion will be referred to CCSD’s academic centers or the Acceleration Academy -- both of which already serve high school students who previously struggled and were in need of extra, or alternative, support.

Jara said students recommended for expulsion will also be referred to CCSD’s public online schools, the Nevada Learning Academy or the Lighthouse. He said he plans to “double down” on mental health support.

“It’s really about changing behavior,” Jara said.

To meet the demand at the aforementioned schools, Mike Barton, CCSD’s Chief College, Career and Equity Officer said they have been assigned additional staff members and resources for mental health support of students.

“We’ve beefed them up as far as mental health services, so some of our vendors, with, counseling and social work and outside therapy -- we’ve ensured that those campuses are getting those resources,” said Barton.

He said these same students will have their progress monitored.

“There’s gonna be requirements. If a student goes there and they’re not permanently expelled, and they’re going to eventually go back to a comprehensive campus, there’s going to be a checklist that the parents and the students need to complete: counseling, anger management, if it’s sexual assault, potential rehabilitation for that before they ever step foot on a campus. But again, some kids won’t step foot on a comprehensive campus if they’re permanently expelled,” said Barton.

For added safety, another part of their stated plan is to consolidate campus entry points to one secure entrance, according to district leaders.

“Reset spaces” were also mentioned by Jara as a resolution, though it was not clear what he meant by that.

He also said they will continue training staff with the use of “a multi-tiered system of support.”

Wolfson said school violence will not be tolerated.

“There must be consequences,” said Wolfson. “Guns on campus, there should be the severest of consequences.”

But some CCSD teachers and support staff tell FOX5 that they feel the problem has a lot to do with the current lack of consequences, and the lack of required parent conferences, or RPCs.

RPCs have existed for many years, and CCSD Communications said they are still part of the student code of conduct. The idea behind them is to not only hold a student accountable, but a parent. By requiring parents have conversations with staff about the issues, RPCs are designed to make parents a part of the solution.

But these same staff members told FOX5 that too many school principals have been resisting resorting to RPCs, and they said they feel Jara is missing an opportunity.

After all, Jara did mention he wants to engage with families in new ways.

“We have to find ways to re-engage [students], involving their parents and guardians in their re-engagement process,” said Jara.

One support staff professional echoed that sentiment, but at her elementary school, she said RPCs have become increasingly rare.

“Instead of parents having to come in to parent, to deal with the situation as a parent, be inconvenienced... it’s just not happening,” said the support staff professional, who wishes to remain anonymous due to concerns over retaliation. “It has been years since we’ve seen an RPC.”

Rebecca Kennard, who teaches high school at CCSD, said the RPC process has softened significantly at her school.

“Back in my day, you could not physically step foot in campus until a parent came with you to the office to have the conference,” said Kennard. “Now, they can leave you at school all day, and a day after, and a day after, and they can just set up a meeting for the end of the week. If something happens on a Monday, they can just set up an RPC meeting on Friday -- Zoom or in person -- and the kid gets to go to school for the rest of the week.”

During the press conference, FOX5 asked Jara about whether CCSD has plans to add oversight to ensure all principals are using RPCs to address the bad behavior.

Here’s what he said: “I’m gonna be an oversight and monitor? Absolutely not. I have full confidence in our principals that they’re going to continue to provide that support at school for our parents.”

He said teachers should take it upon themselves to progressively reach out to students’ parents.

“I used to say to my teachers, I said, ‘ya know, if you’re seeing things that are the students are acting a little bit different, just make a phone call home.’ It doesn’t have to always be negative. It’s got to be a way to engage that family,” said Jara.

This didn’t sit well with CCSD K-12 teacher Alexis Salt.

“It’s just one more thing for teachers to do,” said Salt. “So now we’re going to be in charge of monitoring discipline as well?”

Salt added that she is grateful for their announcement and addressing of the issue, but hopes solutions for the staff shortage will be considered as leaders examine the issue of school violence.