Durham Public School leaders put extra focus on safety at safe schools summit

DeJuan Hoggard Image
Tuesday, September 20, 2022
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At Jordan High School, Durham school officials and law enforcement representatives met with parents and community stakeholders to take questions related to the relationship among the various agencies.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Monday evening, Durham Public Schools officials made a case for safety during its safe schools summit.

Charles E. Jordan High School is where DPS officials, along with representatives from the Durham County Sheriff's Office, Durham Police Department, Fire Marshal, Durham Fire Department, and the county's emergency management operations met with parents and community stakeholders to take questions related to the relationship among the various agencies.

"If you want to have a problem resolved or addressed, or an issue, you have to bring it up, especially if it's going to take more money," said Durham parent Trish Dean following the summit, which lasted about 90 minutes.

Prior to the meeting, a news release from the school district acknowledged the event to be an opportunity for parents and the community to learn how the district is working with partner agencies to keep everyone safe.

"Safety and education must be in sync if we are to ensure physical and social-emotional safety and outstanding academic achievement for all of our students," said DPS Superintendent Dr. Pascal Mubenga in the press release. "We're proud to have such partners standing up for our schools."

Officials expected around 100 people to be in attendance for the event. However, there were fewer people in the audience.

"I just think we need to be more present," said parent Kathryn Johnson Thompson. "We have a lot to do. We have a lot of work to do. "It can't stop here. You can't come to one meeting and think that everything is going to be solved and everything taken care of. You need to be active throughout the year, throughout the years that our children are involved in the Durham Public School system."

It also comes as a tall-sized priority for the district's new executive director of safety and security, Eva Howard, whose resume include stints with the Highway Patrol and NC State University.

In the release, Howard said, "We make it a practice to join forces with the leaders of our emergency and safety organizations to bring forward common sense and cutting-edge systems thinking to protect the people in our schools and buildings."

"We're open to all feedback," said Howard ahead of the meeting.

With just weeks until the midterm elections, Durham County Sheriff Clarence Birkhead also fielded questions from the community and even addressed his desire for school resource officers (SROs) to be staffed at elementary schools.

"That is something I'd like to see," said Birkhead. "So in the meantime, we want to educate parents in forums like this. Give out information so that they too can understand that gang members are actively recruiting 8-year-olds, 9-year-olds, and 10-year-olds, every day."

Dr. Mubenga later followed by clarifying such a decision would need to come from the DPS board and that conversation has yet to take place. However, he encouraged others to get involved.

"When we're talking about gang violence in the community, it's not a DPS issue alone. It's a community issue. And we need collective, community effort," said Mubenga.

Additionally, parent Kevin Primus brought a list of several questions he wanted to ask the panel that addressed weapons in schools and a grievance about an experience with an SRO in the past.

"Here's where I'll start my response," replied Birkhead to one of Primus' questions. "It is against the law for students to bring weapons to school. Period."

"I wasn't completely pleased with the answers," said Primus at the end of the summit. "I don't think everything was accurately characterized from what my personal knowledge is from certain situations."

School and government leaders will host another summit on Sept. 26 at 6 p.m. at Southern School of Energy and Sustainability.