Dear GRPS Families —
I’m writing to share some important information about how we will handle backpacks in the upcoming school year. Throughout our decision making process, the safety of our scholars has been our top concern. Our children are the reason we are here each day and their wellbeing inspires the work we do. The Grand Rapids Public Schools School Security and Public Safety team has been hard at work looking at ways to adjust in the wake of the incidents that prompted the decision to remove backpacks from the school environment at the end of the last year.
After careful consideration and feedback from our families, we have decided to allow backpacks of your choosing for the upcoming school year. We are recommending that parents select a clear backpack to make it easier to see what your scholar is transporting to and from school. This is a recommendation but not a requirement.
The decision on backpacks is just part of a security enhancement process that district leadership is working through. Here is an overview of some of the other changes our scholars and families will notice in the next school year.
- Increased Screenings - Our public safety team will conduct more random and unannounced screenings using weapons detection technology at our school sites.
- Prevention programming - Increased face-to-face violence prevention experiences targeting scholars who are returning from expulsions. This Teaching Education And Mentoring (TEAM) intervention work occurs on Saturdays and has successfully reintegrated participants into the learning environment.
- Mental health and social-emotional learning programming - We are working to grow our team to offer more services available to all scholars. Every school will have a team member specifically there to support the mental health of our scholars. The district is implementing a new social-emotional learning curriculum for elementary and middle school students. This will include ongoing professional development starting in August to increase the social-emotional awareness of all team members.
- Parent Action Leader (PAL) Awareness training - We will partner with our Parent Action Leaders to provide parent-focused resources and online opportunities around mental health, and safe gun storage. We will also utilize this group of dedicated caregivers to continue to seek suggestions and feedback from parents and other stakeholders.
- Scholar forums - We will continue to keep scholar voice central in our decisions around school safety. This will include forums, focus groups, and feedback focused on gathering their input that will begin this fall.
- Silent Observer - We are partnering with Silent Observer to raise awareness of anonymous reporting options and increase reward dollars for scholars who make reports that lead to the confiscation of a weapon at school.
- Building assessments - We are in the process of assessing each of our school buildings with an outside firm to identify security vulnerabilities and prioritize improvements. These assessments will be completed by the end of the school year.
- Weapons detectors- We are testing the latest technology in weapons detection equipment to determine how we might integrate it into our school environments. At this time, these will be utilized as part of our random and unannounced weapons searches and are not yet slated for permanent installation. All schools will have access to screening equipment to utilize as needed for weapons screenings and high schools will have equipment in their buildings for immediate access. Training will be provided.
- Training - Additional staff training offerings focused on school safety and violence prevention will be made available to the full team. Classes will be offered after school and on weekends to increase participation.
- Crisis after care - Additional crisis after care training will be made available for GRPS team members to assist in helping scholars handle grief and other emotions following a crisis in the community.
Improving school safety is constantly evolving work and it is our top priority. We know that our scholars cannot learn and grow unless they feel safe at school.
The decision to return to allowing backpacks reflects our best thinking today and may change if deemed necessary. We ask that families make a regular practice of checking your scholars’ backpacks and belongings. We also ask that gun owners lock and secure their firearms so that they don’t end up in the wrong hands.
Thank you for your patience as we worked diligently to make these decisions toward a safe start to a new school year.
I will also take this opportunity to remind families who haven’t already done so to complete the enrollment process as soon as possible as the start of school is just weeks away.
We are already counting down the days and looking forward to welcoming our young people back to school on August 22!
Thank you for your partnership in ensuring our scholars are safe.
Leadriane Roby, Ph.D.
Grand Rapids Public Schools