National trends show students are expressing more concern about their safety at school, but Newton seems to be bucking that trend, Mike Clagg, assistant superintendent for human resources, told the Newton school board at its meeting Tuesday night.
National trends show about 5 percent of students said they did not go to school one or more days in the last 30 days because they did not feel safe at school or going to and from school, according to a report published by the Centers for Disease Control.
About 15 percent of male students and 7 percent of female students said they had been in a physical fight while at school in the last year, and 20 percent of students said they had been bullied at least once in the last year.
The Kansas Communities that Care Survey released in November to the Newton school board reported Newton students reported feeling more protected when compared to other students and less “at risk” when compared to other students.
“This does not alleviate Newton’s responsibility to provide for the safety and security of students,” Clagg said.
Although Newton may be doing well on some key indicators of security and safety, Clagg said bullying in local schools seems to match national trends and continues to be an area of concern in the district.
The district brought in a speaker on cyberbullying earlier this school year in attempts to address the issue.
On the front lines of safety and security in Newton schools are the district’s school resource officers.
SROs have to be prepared to deal with everything from active shooter scenarios to bullying, two Newton school resource officers told the school board Tuesday night.
Newton High School SRO Chad Gay said building a rapport with students builds a foundation that helps him keep the school secure and ferret out crime among students.
“I might have someone come to me and tell me Bill has marijuana in his shoe or Joe showed me a knife this morning. He had it in his pocket,” Gay said. “Although security is a part of my main job, I do that hardly ever.”
Elementary school SRO also spends a lot of time getting to know the students in the district’s five elementary schools.
He deals extensively with bullying. Bullying begins to become an issue in second through fourth grades, Davis said, and encompasses physical, verbal and cyber bullying.
“I am amazed at the third- and forth-grade kids who have Facebook, Myspace and cell phones. It blows me away,” he said. “I see cyberbullying. They will set up a fake Facebook page and say incredibly mean things.”
Middle school SRO Randy Jordan could not attend the meeting.
The SROs may be the public face of security in Newton schools, but there are many behind-the-scenes programs and efforts that help ensure Newton students’ safety.
The district has a crisis plan that is updated every year, Clagg said. The district does not make public the entirety of its crisis plan as knowledge of certain specifics of the plan could put students in jeopardy, he said.
Other district security initiatives include:
• Joint crisis exercises with the Newton Police Department.
• Crisis response kits, which include water, food and medical supplies, placed in all district buildings.
• Use of the Alert Now phone alert system has grown to include St. Mary Catholic School.
• The district was awarded a $223,549 grant to purchase 34 two-way radios and place 100 security cameras in schools. Video from those cameras are displayed on monitors at the McKinley Administrative Center.
Clagg said the radios can improve invaluable when weather causes both power and cell service to be disrupted. The radios also could be redistributed to a specific school to deal with a crisis situation, he said.
• The “Inside Track” was added to the district Web site to allow people to pose anonymous questions and have them answered on the Web site.
• The district participates in the Kansas Highway Patrol Hotline, which allows people to make anonymous tips to law enforcement concerning threats or illegal activity in and around schools.