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What can be done to prevent further gun violence in or near Seattle schools?

caption: More police are patrolling Garfield High School after a recent wave of gun violence near the school in Seattle's Central District. Parents met at the school Monday to talk about solutions.
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More police are patrolling Garfield High School after a recent wave of gun violence near the school in Seattle's Central District. Parents met at the school Monday to talk about solutions.
KUOW Photo / Sami West

Garfield High School parents voiced their concerns and discussed solutions at a safety meeting earlier this week.

The meeting comes after a series of after-hours shootings near the school in Seattle’s Central District. An unspecified threat of gun violence also closed Garfield part of Thursday and all day Friday.

Kayla Epting, the president of Garfield's parent-teacher-student association, said she left Monday’s conversation encouraged.

“We will stay diligent in finding solutions that work for our school community around student safety and campus safety,” she said. “And as a result, our larger community will be impacted for the better.”

Epting said she’s glad the Seattle Police Department has increased patrols before and after school, and that Seattle Public Schools has hired additional private security, who are onsite and can intervene quickly if there’s a threat.

But increased law enforcement around the school has some concerned.

A 2021 Brookings study found that school policing often fuels the school-to-prison pipeline, rather than preventing crime.

In 2020, Seattle was among a number of school districts across the nation to remove armed police officers from school buildings in the wake of several high-profile police killings of Black people.

As a Black woman, Epting said she recognizes the harm law enforcement has had on communities of color. But she believes police must be part of the solution to steadily increasing violence in Seattle.

“That’s not lost in this work,” Epting said. “But we also recognize that there is a place for police in this partnership, and we’re working with families to figure out how to best support student safety across the board.”

School officials plan to hold more meetings with parents and the surrounding community this summer and next school year, Epting said. And she hopes the district will work with more community organizations on further gun violence prevention.

In a statement, Garfield Principal Tarance Hart said a new school safety and security plan — for the remainder of this school year and next — is forthcoming.

And Superintendent Brent Jones said the district is taking the threats near Garfield “very seriously” and trying to be both proactive and reactive. But he said the district needs help to make change.

“While these actions address the immediate concerns, we know we cannot act alone,” Jones said in a statement. “We all need to come together around increased gun violence throughout Seattle.”

Late last week, Jones also provided an update on the districtwide security and safety initiative, prompted by a deadly shooting inside Ingraham High School. Ingraham families have been pressing the district for more information since Jones’ last update in February.

On Friday, Jones acknowledged “this update took more time than anticipated.” But he said the district is making “considerable progress in strengthening school safety.”

Jones said the district is in the process of updating building locks so that they can be activated inside classrooms. This fall, Jones said, the district will roll out new signage in all secondary schools to “help students and staff easily remember and follow safety procedures.” And, he said the district has already launched a new anonymous safety reporting app for high schools.

Jones also emphasized the district’s ongoing collaboration with the greater Seattle community — including first responders, the city, and community organizations — to address public safety. And a previously announced wellness council, made up of physicians, clinicians, and first responders, is in the process of making a list of recommendations for a new mental health awareness campaign for Seattle.

He also touted a new pilot program expanding student mental health resources in five schools: Rainier Beach, Chief Sealth International, and Ingraham high schools, as well as Denny and Aki Kurose middle schools.

The program is funded by the city, and Jones said it also allows the district to hire more mental health clinicians and provide trauma-informed training for school staff.

As part of Friday’s update, Jones also shared a summary of the Ingraham-specific safety review. Recommendations the district is considering include:

  • Providing additional emergency training for school leaders
  • Supplementing the school’s existing public address system to cover the entire campus, in the parking lots, and on the athletic fields
  • Upgrading security camera systems
  • Increasing the visibility and presence of security personnel
  • Altering external landscaping to ensure security camera views aren’t blocked

The district has also hired a full-time social worker for the school, Jones said.

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