By Paul Elwell
The Iowa City School Board on Tuesday took steps to institute a task force responsible for school safety.
The task force will tackle issues ranging from mental health and bullying among students to advanced security from intruders following the Feb. 14 shooting in Parkland, Florida, as well as the large amount of community involvement in the strengthening of school security.
“There are many short-term and long-term things we have to do,” board member Shawn Eyestone said. “With these horrific things happening around the country, we have these knee-jerk reactions, and we want to make sure that whatever it is we’re going to want to put into place in our school in regards to safety and security, that it’s a sustainable and long-term, positive fix.”
The formation of the task force is still in its early stages. Eyestone said the task force will serve a very specific purpose and hopes it will be broad-based, including parents, staff, law enforcement, and other community members.
The operations committee, of which Eyestone is a member, will oversee the chartering and recruitment of the task force.
Members of the board were concerned about the focal points of the task force. Board member Paul Roesler, for example, said he did not want the primary focus of the group to be intruder safety.
“I hope that when you do the charter, that you are very specific in what you are looking for,” Roesler said. “I am less concerned with intruder safety than I am with actual student and teacher safety in the school from each other. I know there are a lot of students and staff out there who are not safe.”
Eyestone said another area the task force will look into is cyberbullying and social media. He said that based on results from a survey given to students at Iowa City schools, the most common response of what made students feel unsafe was cyberbullying and alienation from their peers.
Several community members also took the floor at the meeting. Each offered her or his own concerns about safety in schools and what kind of reform would be necessary for them to feel confident in the children’s safety
“I want to present the idea of having a mental-health professional in the school that is dedicated to only those kids who have anxiety and depression, beyond the learning disabilities that many kids have,” said Rebecca Sanabria, a mother of three children attending Iowa City schools. “Our counselors at our school say that these are not things that they are trained for, and they don’t have the time for it, because they are concentrating on the kids’ developmental needs.”
The board did not vote on the establishment of the task force after entrusting its formation to the operations committee. The committee will report back to the board on its progress in early May.