Fewer students in Henry County Public Schools feel safe when they are at school, even though their parents and school staff think they are in a safe place.

As school violence continues to erupt across the nation – in mass shootings and mass deaths and even more individual violence – safety is a point of discussion, review, planning and drilling as students are taught how to protect themselves and each other.

Still fewer than 8 out of 10 students – 78% – indicated in a recent survey by HCPS that “I feel safe at my school,” a smaller percentage than three of the four preceding school years.

In 2017-18 79.96% responding to the survey indicated they felt safe, after a high of 81.59 in in 2016-17, a low of 77.08% in 2015-16 and 78.8% in 2014-15.

However, the percentages of parent survey respondents who said they feel “the school provides a safe place for my child” have, for the most part, grown over the last four years: 89.78% in 2018-19, 89.71% in 2017-18, 91.64% in 2016-17 and 82.54% in 2015-16.

Among HCPS staff, the number has fluctuated more, with 2018-19 being the peak (93.7%) after a low of 89.55 in 2017-18.

The data, which was shared last week with the Henry County School Board, comes from more than 2,000 surveys, about half of them from students.

Dorothy Carter, president of the Henry County Education Association, said she doesn’t know why the percentage of students who indicated they feel safe in school wasn’t larger.

“I know schools are doing all they can to keep students safe,” she said.

But she also said she feels that what’s happening throughout the United States (in terms of school violence, crime and safety) may have an effect on local students’ views.

A recent report by the U.S. Department of Education said in that 2017-18 school year there were an estimated 962,300 violent incidents and 476,100 nonviolent incidents nationally.

The report said 66% of schools reported at least one physical attack or fight without a weapon and 3% cited at least one with a weapon. The report estimated 3,600 incidents involving a firearm or weapon at school.

The Virginia Department of Education keeps track of “reportable” incidents at each of the Henry County Schools. The data for the 5-year period from 2013 to 2018 are not precise because not every incident is considered by the state to be reportable. But these numbers provide a baseline of trends in independent categories:

  • The number of reportable offenses against students (such as physical assault) in HCPS increased from 10 to 77.
  • The number of other reportable offenses against persons (such as an altercation) increased from 195 in 2013-14 to 247 in 2017-18,
  • And the number of all other reportable offenses increased from 60 in 2013-14 to 105 in 2017-18.
  • Disorderly or disruptive behavior offenses (such as defiance, disrespect) declined from 641 in 2013-14 to 593 in 2017-18 (the 5-year high was 859 in 2016-17).
  • Alcohol, tobacco and other drug offenses rose from 54 in 2013-14 to 131 in 2017-18.
  • There were no reportable offenses against staff, and no reportable weapons offenses listed during those years.
  • The number of reportable property offenses and technology offenses both have declined significantly.

Another report on the Virginia Department of Education website – Standards of Accreditation Offenses Data – lists these numbers of offenses for Henry County Public Schools for the 2017-18: offenses against student, 103; offenses against staff, 17; weapons offenses, 25; property offenses, 22; all other offenses, 116; other offenses against persons, 283; disorderly or disruptive behavior offenses, 604; alcohol, tobacco and other drug offenses, 136; and technology offenses, 16.

Keevie Hairston’s son attends Magna Vista High School, where he is in Warrior Tech and is starting the ACE program.

She said he never has said he felt unsafe at school.

“I have never had an issue that I felt he was not safe at school,” she said. “I haven’t had any issues with county schools. Everything is going fine.”

Carter talked about security measures and policies that are in place to ensure safety of schools, and she said students may not be aware of some of the things being done to keep them safe.

“I know I’ve never been afraid to teach in any of our schools in over 20 years,” she said.

Broader survey

Safety was only one of a number of issues that the Henry County Public Schools survey of students, parents and staff dealt with. (See the entire survey attached.) Among the other topics were level of pride in school, whether classes are teaching students the skills they need to be successful, expectations for staff, work environment, learning environment, opportunities for parental involvement, resources and support, among other things.

“I feel good about the survey,” she said.

However, she said, “…It doesn’t show what every teacher thinks. Less than 50 percent responded.”

Some teachers declined to comment on the contents of the survey for fear that their anonymity would be breached and that their opinions might be used against them.

“I’m convinced they are not being tracked,” Carter said of the anonymous survey, but she said she hopes some additional measures being taken for the survey will reduce that fear.

State of the district

Carter said she is “happy to have Sandy Strayer as superintendent. ….She is a hometown person. We know she cares about every group… .We believe she will have our best interests at heart.”

Carter cited the need for higher employee pay. She said teachers and peer professionals are multiple steps behind in salary,

“We are concerned about salaries,” Carter said. She believes the school board is not getting enough funding from the Henry County Board of Supervisors.

Paul Collins is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. Contact him at 276-638-8801, ext. 236.

Paul Collins is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. Contact him at 276-638-8801, ext. 236.

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