Teachers and students ask Cleveland School Board to address security issues

by Chuck Hoven

   Over the past few months, teachers, school personnel, students and community members have raised security issues at the Board of Education meetings. The School Board meeting on January 24th at John Hay High School was no exception.

   Responding to some of the concerns raised at previous meetings, Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Eric Gordon reported the current security staffing numbers to the Board of Education and the community. Gordon said there are now 119 security officers and 21 part-time security staff. He noted there are currently 64 vacant full time security officer positions.

   Gordon said that CMSD is now able to hold its own Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy classes to certify new officers. Gordon said all 21 part-time security staff have opted take the class so they can move into full-time positions.

   In another security related announcement, Gordon said that that CMSD had entered into an agreement with the Cleveland Police Department to share the video footage from the external cameras on 16 school buildings. The buildings are in areas where the Cleveland Police Department felt they needed more surveillance, said Gordon. Gordon said the Cleveland Police Department is also working with other public entities such as the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority and the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority to access their video surveillance cameras as well.

   Gordon reported that the sixteen schools where the CMSD has agreed to share its surveillance camera footage are: John Adams College and Career Academy, John F. Kennedy High School, East Tech High School, Glenville High School, Ginn Academy, Collinwood High School High School, John Marshall High School, Rhodes High School, Max Hayes High School, John Hay Campus, Robert Jamison, Mary Bethune, Marion C. Seltzer, Charles Mooney, Luis Muñoz Marín, and Facing History New Tech High School.

   Several Board of Education members raised concerns about the monitoring agreement with the Cleveland Police Department.

   Board member Sara Elaqad said that CMSD security officers may be sensitive to the need to distinguish between student behavior that requires school discipline rather than an arrest, she wondered if there were discussions with the Cleveland Division of Police to raise their awareness of how to address various student behavior. Gordon said there were discussions to put in safeguards so behavior that would require only school disciplinary action would not be criminalized.

   Board member Dr. Nigamanth Sridhar asked who would own the data on the cameras and for how long the images would be stored. Gordon said the school district would control the data and images. Dr. Sridhar asked to see a copy of the agreement so he could comment on it. Sara Elaqad also asked to see a copy of the agreement.

   During the Public Comment period of the Board meeting, a number of people spoke to the Board of Education about their security concerns.

   A teacher from Glenville High School told of teachers witnessing a young man gunned down in front of them as they exited the school on a professional development Friday in August. The teacher said that after the incident the staff didn’t receive any support from the school district. She said, “We sat in our cafeteria crying, wondering what is happening to our community, what is happening to our students, and what is happening to us.” The teacher noted the staff still had to come to school on the following Monday and students had to walk past the memorial of their friend.

   The Glenville teacher also said there were numerous fights at the school. She recounted one fight involving 10 or 11 kids stomping each other outside of the school. She said the staff could not intervene “for fear of losing our own jobs.” When she called 911, the teacher said she was told to call the school system’s safety and security office – a number which she did not know. In the meantime, the school staff were dealing with bleeding students and trying to hide a severely injured student from boys who were running through the building after him. The teacher told of staff members blocking doors so kids could not go out and join in the medley.

   The Glenville teacher said to the Board of Education, “I am asking you that you no longer have any empty promises about how you are going to protect our scholars and our staff. We cannot do it. We are mentally beat down to the ground. So please, I challenge you all to come up with a long-term comprehensive reform that will cater to the needs of our diverse student populations.”

   A teacher from John Adams talked about the trauma being experienced by teachers and students following the shooting of a student at the bus stop outside of the school on January 10th. While she thanked the human ware staff and psychologists who came to talk to staff and students after the incident, she expressed dismay that staff and students had to come back to school the next day. She felt the staff needed time to get a grip on what had happened before going back to teaching students.

   She spoke of the many triggers around the school grounds that bring to mind what had happened at the school – including the memorial at the bus stop. She spoke of the upcoming service and funeral for the student who was killed. She said a new plan is needed for how to help staff and students following such tragic incidents. She said, “We cannot continue with this. This cannot be how we educate students – just talk to someone, get over it and come on. It is not working.”

   A teacher, who is also a parent of a student, spoke to the board for the second time in the last few months about the need for more security in the school buildings. He noted that there are always multiple security guards at the East Professional Center, but few at the school buildings that educate students every day. He said, “Every school building needs a security guard.” The teacher noted the school he has been teaching at for the last five years only has a part time security guard. As a parent and teacher, he asked the Board of Education to “take security seriously.”

   Two students from the Cleveland High School for the Digital Arts came to the podium next to speak to the Board of Education about an incident that occurred on the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA) train while they and another student were going to visit a friend. The students said they were assaulted on the train and feared for their lives. The students played the sound for a video they recorded on their phone of the incident. Those in attendance at the Board of Education meeting heard an angry voice shouting at the students with a lot of foul language and a student pleading for someone to get the police. The students asked why there wasn’t a security guard on every train car.

   One of the students said she rides the bus to and from school and to her job after school. She felt she was attacked and cornered and had no way to defend herself when the person verbally abusing them followed them off the train and the conductor left them on the platform with the man. She said if not for a passer by coming to their aid, she felt they would have been assaulted. She spoke of other incidents coming and going to school when strangers tried to get her into a car and of friends who had similar experiences. She called for students to be allowed to carry mace or some other aid to defend themselves on their way to and from school.

   Chief Executive Officer Eric Gordon asked the students to share their information with CMSD Chief of Safety and Security Lamont Dodson before leaving and to share the recording “so we can try to intervene — at least in this situation.”

   Board Member Leah Hudnall said to the two students that just spoke, “I am in tears, and I believe someone owes you an apology. And I want to give you that apology now, because I was a student at the Cleveland School of the Arts that was assaulted on the RTA going to and from school twenty years ago and I have texts in my phone right now from classmates who are watching this and are crying because they too were assaulted in 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007. All I can tell you now is someone owes you an apology, and I am going to apologize today.”

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