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Sunday Mornings with Rania: Parents’ Must-Read Guide to School Safety this Year

Rania Mankarious
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Sunday Mornings with RaniaI came back from spending New Years in Los Angeles only to find voicemails and emails regarding another terroristic threat at a local Houston high school. Parents were concerned, students were concerned and I struggled to find answers surrounding the alleged incident. Ultimately, the threat was corroborated and the student was handled. But during the process, I navigated my way through the strange spectrum of emotions from students who calmly explained that school threats were their “new norm” to parents whose anxieties regarding school safety were only growing. It reminded me that 2020 was going to be no different than the years before. It also pushed me to take a really hard look at the state of school safety and offer solutions by pulling together the top 5 things I’m urging parents and kids to agree on this year. 

State of School Safety 
There is a very interesting study conducted every other year by the CDC called the YRBSS or Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey. The survey talks to middle and high school students about safety, at risk behavior, drugs, sexuality and more. It’s not a difficult read but it is absolutely a fascinating one. When looking at our area, the 2017 middle and high school study showed that in Houston:

  • Roughly 14 percent (2,982) of male/female students indicated they had carried a weapon (such as a gun, knife, or club) on at least 1 day during the 30 days before the survey
  • Roughly 3.3 percent (2,970) of male and female students carried a weapon on school property (such as a gun, knife, or club) on at least 1 day during the 30 days before the survey 
  • Roughly 8.4 percent (3,026) of male and female students carried a gun on at least 1 day during the 12 months before the survey, not counting the days when they carried a gun only for hunting or for a sport such as target shooting
  • Roughly 7 percent (2,987) of male and female students were threatened or injured which a weapon on school property (such as a gun, knife, or club) on 1 or more times during the 12 months before the survey

Read more about Houston’s specific results here.  

Additionally, when looking directly at schools in our area, the TEA (Texas Education Agency) published an extremely compelling overview, which includes things like how many students per year face disciplinary actions for serious violent or criminal incidents at a specific public school? The TEA tracks these incidents by number of students and the number of disciplinary action taken. Additionally, terroristic threats made by students or against the school, assaults against district employees and other students, the number of students who committed felony crime - are all looked at in addition to so much more. Schools that were most shocking include Westfield High School, which in one year, according to the TEA, had 39 terroristic threats, 119 cases of assault, at least 8 school-related gang violent incidents, at least 1 case of sexual assault, at least 1 case of indecency with a child and a list of other incidents. To look at the public school in your specific area, click here. I guarantee you’ll be fascinated by what you find. 

Why Don’t Parents Always Hear About Issues in Their Schools? 
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal privacy law that gives parents certain protections with regard to their children's education records, such as report cards, transcripts, disciplinary records, contact and family information, and class schedules. You’ll notice “disciplinary records” is included. This means that even if student A threatened to blow up the school, that student’s right to privacy trumps your right to know what the threat was and its outcome. It’s a frustrating issue that we face all the time but also understand. Read more about FERPA here.

5 Things to Talk to Kids About: 
Given the maturity level of kids in school, the ease in which weapons are obtained, the increase in untreated mental health incidents, the physical openness of most schools, the lack of funds for security, the desire most parents have that schools remain a “soft and friendly place” as opposed to an “overly secured facility” - schools face an uphill battle when it comes to safety and security. While so many try to tackle the issue 30,000 feet in the air, Crime Stoppers has always been focused on the students. It is our belief that talking to them is the true key to school safety; after all, they are the first line of intelligence and the true eyes and ears of their community. This year, parents, let’s all agree to get our kids to do the following: 

  1. Stop bullying. No matter what, just stop. Whether in person or online, stop. And let’s add to that, don’t further isolate kids who are alone. Try to befriend, pull in, engage or simply just be kind to those in need. A kind gesture can go a long way. 
  2. Notice the well-being or changes in behaviors of others and report concerning changes to a trusted adult or parent. 
  3. Notice risky behaviors or choices that friends may be making and sound the alarm. And here’s where I’d recommend an additional exercise - ask your child what comes to mind when you say “risky behaviors?” Certainly drugs, alcohol use, physical promiscuity but how about online posting, sharing of too much information, meeting people off-line that you met online?
  4. Look into your school’s safety plan; if they don’t have one, ask until they make one. Review the plan, ask tough questions. Not only should you know your school’s safety plan, but create a family plan as well - tackle things like reunification, what should your personal family plan be in addition to the schools? Also talk about who will be the main point of contact should you learn your student’s school is on lockdown? I hate writing this, but the reality is it would be an absolute terrible thing to have a student in danger, trying to focus and hide, while also having to repeatedly silence a phone or buzzing sound on a gadget. Have a plan and tackle the tough questions, even though it’s hard.    
  5. Recognize that times have changed and kids are forced to mature faster than when we were their age. It’s not just about being polite anymore - it’s actually critical that they be a good citizen, at home, in the community, on the field, at their job and at school. This also means, when you see something, SAY something and say it again and again until someone believes you. This includes reporting online threats and manifestos, conversations that are alarming and more. Students can always report anonymously to Crime Stoppers of Houston at 713-222-8477 (TIPS) or via our mobile app Crime Stoppers Houston. Tipsters are always anonymous.

I go back to the many conversations I had this last week. The safety of our kids at school involves all hands on deck and those hands are mine, yours and our children. My heart breaks for the students who came back to school last week and faced another threat... but I’m thankful that it was reported quickly, by many students who stepped up and that the danger was mitigated. If we continue to approach school safety as a community, we will thwart threats and hopefully, ultimately, mitigate them. Working together. 

Read past Sunday Mornings with Rania posts here. Find more information on Crime Stoppers of Houston on their website or follow them on Facebook. Have topics in mind that you’d like Rania to write about? Comment below or email her at [email protected]. Rania is co-host of a weekly podcast which features interesting local and national guests who used their platforms for the good of the community. Connect with Rania on Instagram and Twitter

Editor's Note: Views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of The Buzz Magazines.

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