School always was a refuge for Kalyn Holland.
That has changed.
Holland felt terror when a Case High School student was shot outside a hotel parking lot across the street from the school in late September.
“I don’t think any of you understand what fear ran through me on that day,” said Holland, a student at Case. “Hearing the gunshots, coming back in from lunch and getting yelled at by teachers, ‘Hurry, get inside, get in any classroom you can.’ … No one knew what was happening. It was terrifying.”
Holland said changes need to occur for safety at Case to improve.
“From first grade until freshman year, I loved going to school,” Holland said. “School was my safe place, and it’s not a true fact anymore.”
Holland was one of eight public commenters who spoke about school safety during Monday’s Racine Unified School District board meeting. Most addressed challenges at Case, 7345 Washington Ave., Mount Pleasant. About 20 people in attendance applauded after each commenter spoke.
Commenters expressed issues with the school district’s handling of school safety, called for district communication to improve and urged officials to work with the public to make schools safer.
Metal detectors are now used daily at Case, and RUSD plans to make additional investments in the near future to try to make schools safer.
Case teacher Jeanne Schierstedt said anxiety levels at Case have “grown appreciably since September.”
“The tensions felt by students, staff and our families has heightened,” Schierstedt said.
Case teacher AJ Zydzik added that people at Case feel they have received minimal support from district administration.
“Students and staff have not received any acknowledgment from the superintendent or anyone from central office that these are tough times at Case, and that they see the trauma of staff and students and want to work with us,” Zydzik said.
Zydzik asked for a district-wide committee to oversee the issue of school safety instead of relying on school staff.
“Let’s set up a system to allow the real work, not just security theater, to begin to make our schools safe,” Zydzik said.
Case teachers and parents said communication from the district also needs to improve.
“There is a communication breakdown when it comes to safety in the district,” Case teacher Karen Hardcastle said. “With the last three incidents that happened at Case, district communication has not improved systemically, and principals are doing everything they can, but we need improvement from the top.”
In addition to the September shooting, a case student was arrested in October after bringing a gun to school. A different case student, who has significant cognitive delays, was arrested and charged earlier this month after stabbing a classmate with a knife he brought to school.
RUSD Superintendent Eric Gallien during Monday’s meeting outlined several ways the district is working to address school safety, including more frequent use of metal detectors, purchasing scanning systems and hiring more security staff.
RUSD has 14 metal detectors that can be moved from one school to another. Starting Oct 24 the school district began using the detectors at random times at RUSD’s five high schools: Case, Horlick, Park, Walden III and REAL. Metal detectors have been used at RUSD sporting events since 2019.
Metal detectors began being used daily at Case Nov. 16. Random scans will continue on a more consistent basis at the other four schools, according to Gaul, and plans are being developed to use detectors at other RUSD schools.
RUSD board member Ally Docksey asked if the district’s overall goal is to have daily security scans at all five high schools.
“I don’t know about daily basis, but the goal is to do it more frequently,” Gallien replied.
Earlier this month, Racine County District Attorney Patricia Hanson told the board she believes metal detectors should be used every day at every RUSD high school, calling gun violence a local “crisis.”
Gaul also said the district plans to purchase systems from the company Evolv Technology that can quickly scan large numbers of people for weapons. Those purchases will eventually require board approval. If approved, Gallien said RUSD plans to use those systems at Case, Horlick and Park.
More proactive work needed
Several people criticized the use of metal detectors and scanners as reactive moves by the district when more front-end work is needed.
“All of the district’s policies have been reactive,” Zydzik said. “They happen after the incident and aren’t working proactively to create safer schools that we all deserve.”
RUSD board member Matthew Hanser shared a similar sentiment.
“I don’t openly support the use of metal detectors at our schools,” Hanser said. “We have to have something that deals with this stuff on the front end. Staff that are well-trained in identifying students who maybe are going through some trauma, or the adverse childhood experiences they’ve had — those are the pieces, because if I’m a kid who’s bringing a weapon to school, I don’t care about the metal detector. Something else is going on.”
Gaul noted that trauma-informed work is occurring at RUSD. He said detectors and scanners can decrease the number of weapons brought into schools but knows they can’t stop all of them.
“We’re not saying that these scanners are going to keep every weapon out of the school,” Gallien said. “It’s really intended to be a deterrent. At the end of the day, we’re doing what we can do.”
Case parent Kathy Kaesermann was relieved that metal detectors are used daily but said more work is needed.
“I’m sure I wasn’t the only parent to breathe a short sigh of relief when I heard the metal detectors were a permanent addition to Case,” Kaesermann said. “However, we cannot stop here. We must continue to ensure the safety and security of all RUSD schools … I urge you not to become complacent. I ask that you continue to find ways to ensure all students feel safe and supported so they can reach their full potential.”
Multiple public commenters discussed the issue of employees at Case manning the metal detectors. According to Stacy Tapp, RUSD chief of communications and community engagement, case staff who volunteered have been assisting with metal detector work.
Kevin Larson said RUSD should not overburden workers who are already busy, or else the district will keep losing teachers.
Schierstedt said staff working with metal detectors takes away from their teaching duties and delays students from arriving to class on time. That combination results in “additional upset to the flow of the school day and student-teacher interactions,” Schierstedt said.
To man detectors and address other safety issues, RUSD is planning to hire more security staff in addition to existing school resource officers. The number of new hires and the schools they will work at is unknown at this point, but Gallien said the district is in the process of writing and posting job descriptions.
Those security staffers will handle work previously done by off-duty law enforcement, since there is a shortage of Racine Police Department officers.
“We’re going to shift our resources to that area and get that in place soon,” Gallien said. “We need to fill the gap.”
Several commenters urged the school board and district to listen more to the public so everyone can collaborate to address school safety.
“It’s time for all of us to work together to come up with a plan to make it safe for our kids to go to school to learn and better themselves, not be afraid,” said Alicia Ramirez, Case Parent Teacher Student Association president.
(c) 2022 The Journal Times, Racine, Wisc.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.