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First year of Charlottesville's new safety model a success

Charlottesville City Schools’ new safety model that was rolled out this year is going well, division officials recently told the school board.

“I would say it has been successful, and it will improve,” said Jason Lee, the division’s supervisor of facilities, safety and operations. “I think with all the data we’re collecting, the people we are bringing to the table, and the conversations we are having, it can only get better and better.”

The school board decided in summer 2020 to remove school resource officers from buildings. After months of discussions, the board signed off a new model in May 2021 that included hiring eight care and safety assistants who would monitor hallways and build relationships with students along with additional social-emotional support counselors and social workers.

“We’re a year into this,” Lee said. “We’re analyzing it, and we’re aware of some of the deficits. There are some glows but there are some grows as well. … We’re one of four schools in the state of Virginia that were brave enough to do what we did. I think it was a success.”

Charlottesville schools had 77 incidents this school year through April 28 that required a response from either Charlottesville Fire, EMS or the police department. About 70% of those were handled by the Charlottesville Police Department, which included responses from multiple agencies.

Charlottesville High and Buford Middle schools accounted for the most calls. About a one-third were for medical attention, 28% were for verbal or social media threats, 14.7% were theft, vandalism or trespassing, and 13.7% were for drug-related offenses, according to the presentation.

This is the first year the school division has collected this type of information. This year will serve as the baseline for future comparisons, officials said.

Lee said that the response time from agencies is a significant challenge, and he’s working with area agencies to improve it. When the school system had SROs on site, the officer could call directly for a response. Now, school officials go through 911.

“It hasn’t been a lot of an issue, but again, there’s that gap of time,” Lee said.

The core part of the new model is the care and safety assistants. Lee said they have completed several different trainings this year and are certified as school safety officers through the state.

“We picked the right people for the job,” Lee said. “We have people that are really invested in the community and the students and the students.”

Many of the assistants hired at the beginning of the school year had existing relationships with the schools where they worked.

About a third of students at Buford Middle and Charlottesville High schools who participated in a division survey said the assistants have helped maintain safety or been helpful to them or others, according to the presentation. About 46% of the respondents said they didn’t have an opinion or were neutral on the topic.

A majority of staff members who responded to the survey agreed that the CSAs have been helpful.

Lee said the students who were neutral might have not sought the support of the CSAs.

“But it could be students who don’t know the services that CSAs actually provide, so we could do a better job of pushing in and allowing them to understand the services that CSAs could bring,” Lee said. “That’s just me speculating as I analyze it and break it down.”

This was the first year that the school division crafted and administered its own school safety survey. About 1,020 students responded along with 112 teachers.

About half of the students said they felt safe at school, though 17.2% said they didn’t, according to the results shared last week. About 60% of staff said they felt safe at school.

For a majority of students, having friends at school makes them feel safe. Staff members said on the survey that they thought staff helps students feel the safest.

Students and staff said on the survey that they felt unsafe in the bathrooms and during hallway transitions. Board members requested more information about that and for suggestions on how they could address that concern.

“These are all areas where most building-level individuals understand that there’s a little bit more free rein, free space,” Lee said.

About 40% of students agreed that mental health professionals in their schools have been helpful along with nearly 85% of staff members.

About 30.7% of students said they didn’t think teachers or staff knew how to handle student behavior or disruptions, though 31.5% of students said the opposite.

Meanwhile, about 57% of staff members said they felt equipped to handle student behavior or disruptions,

Students largely agreed that teachers and staff cared about them, and a majority said they have an adult in the building they can trust.

Most of the staff who responded said they felt equipped to build good relationships with students and had at least one colleague they could trust if they needed help.

“That’s very important as you build that culture of care within your buildings,” Lee said.

Moving forward, Lee said the school system is continuing to work on improving building security systems and providing de-escalation training for all staff.

“The more people we have that are on board to have de-escalation skills, the safer and safer our schools are,” Lee said.


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