Reprinted from Portland Tribune. First appeared as an opinion piece on the Portland Tribune.
The school shooting in Parkland has ignited students to create a movement advocating for school safety. School safety has the potential to veer in the direction of upping security; adding armed police officers and security guards to schools. However, I believe the way to increase school safety is to get to the root of the problem, rather than trying to put a band-aid on the problem.
To me, the real issue in schools is that many students do not trust their school environment. In a recent student-led report on Oregon’s schools, Oregon Student Voice found that only 58 percent of students agree that there is an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect in their schools, and 32 percent disagree. Diving deeper into this issue, students reported that one reason for this breakdown in trust was the disconnect in communication between administrators, teachers, and students. I believe that mending this disconnect is imperative in order to enhance school safety.
Effective communication between administrators, teachers, and students is important, especially when a crisis is occurring at school. When a safety issue arises and students are unsure of what is going on, it can cause panic amongst the student body. Students turn to their administrators and teachers for guidance on whether the school is safe. However, when information is not available, students can feel a lack of trust that their safety is being prioritized.
I have first-hand experience with the necessity of effective communication. On a Monday morning in March, a picture surfaced on social media of a shooting threat that appeared to be written on a desk at my high school. Students were extremely worried, and immediately brought the picture to the attention of administrators and teachers. Teachers and students did not find out until the early afternoon that the picture was not from my school, but many students had already left school concerned for their safety. Students needed to know that actions were being taken to protect their safety.
What I have taken from this experience is that there needs to be better communication between students, teachers, and administrators during a school crisis. Students and teachers need accurate information about what is happening within the school to ensure that misinformation does not spread. Further, effective communication channels will help students better understand why certain information cannot be shared and delays are necessary. Many students are unaware of the procedures administrators take when a safety concern arises, and we need to have an open conversation about these actions in our schools. If specific information is unavailable, students need to know that investigations into safety concerns are occuring so that they know their safety is being prioritized.
Whether it be a schoolwide safety issue or an individual reporting concerns to administration, communication is key to establishing a safe, respectful, and trusting environment. Oregon schools need to support and respect all students in the ways that they need in order to build a safer and more positive school culture.
Gwen Kaliszewski is a junior at Cleveland High School and a member of Oregon Student Voice, a student-led organization that empowers all students to be authentic partners in education decision making. Read OSV’s State of Our Schools report now: https://www.oregonstudentvoice.org/amplify.