12 percent of Austin students have safety concerns, a new survey shows


Highlights

The 2017-18 student climate survey was completed by more than 39,000 students across grade levels.

Black students were less likely to feel safe; 19 percent said they never feel safe or only feel safe a little.

About 4,600 students in the Austin school district, or 12 percent of students questioned, said they never feel safe at school or only feel safe “a little,” according to the annual survey done by the district.

The percentage of students who said they felt safe at school dropped 4 percentage points since the 2016-17 school year to 87 percent this year.

The 2017-18 survey, completed by more than 39,000 students across grade levels, examined various aspects of the school environment.

Students completed the survey soon after the Parkland shootings and Austin bombings, which likely affected how students felt about their safety, district officials said.

Recent school shootings spurred a student-led national movement calling for stricter gun laws and safer schools. Thousands of Austin-area students joined peers across the country in school walkouts and protests after the February high school shooting that killed 17 people in Parkland, Fla.

RELATED: Idea of arming teachers draws sharp response at Capitol hearing

“Our fears are growing because we’re fully aware that nothing is changing,” said 15-year-old Emma Rohloff, who just completed her sophomore year at LASA High School. “I do feel more unsafe as far as gun violence goes in school. … It’s almost part of the routine, that at some point during my week, I get an alert that it happened again.”

Olivia Hoffman, who just completed her freshman year at Austin High School, said she also reported on the survey feeling less safe.

“The threat has always been there, but it’s been amplified in the last year with the frequency of mass shootings,” said Hoffman, 15. “I definitely feel less safe in my school.”

Hoffman, who has helped organize local student protests, is advocating for easier ways for students to anonymously report what could be potential school threats, and has been adamant in her opposition against arming teachers.

African-American students were less likely to feel safe, according to the survey, with nearly 1 in 5 reporting they never feel safe or only feel safe a little.

Administrators, who shared some of the survey results with trustees during Monday night’s school board meeting, said the numbers were concerning because they want to ensure not only that schools and students are safe, but also that students feel safe.

“We realize perception is the reality,” Austin police Chief Ashley Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said campus resource officers are visible at the schools, are trained in crisis intervention response, and work with campus mental health experts, but will continue to look for ways to improve. “Safety is and will continue to be our No. 1 priority,” he said.

Craig Shapiro, an associate superintendent, said the district will use the survey data to inform areas of improvement, with a focus on school safety.

“With the unfortunate events across our country, it raises everyone’s awareness,” Shapiro said.

He said principals are reviewing campus safety plans over the summer and will reiterate safety protocols, including entering through front entrances and student pickup procedures, to parents.

The district is spending an additional $1.7 million for five more police officers and one mental health officer, as well as more safety and security equipment. Another $26.6 million in 2017 bond money is being designated for life safety and police equipment upgrades districtwide, including security cameras and security system updates. In addition, each of the 17 modernization school projects will have safety and security components designed into those campuses.



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