GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (GRPS) — Grand Rapids Public Schools will once again allow backpacks as district leaders implement safety measures aimed at protecting children.
Backpacks were removed from the school environment at GRPS last year following four incidents where guns were confiscated from young students.
After receiving feedback from the community, consulting with internal and external experts, and creating a plan to implement other safety measures, the district has decided to allow backpacks again.
District leaders are recommending that families select a clear backpack to assist in monitoring what children are bringing to and from school, but this is not a requirement.
The backpack decision is just one part of the school safety plans for the 2023-2024 school year.
Other measures include:
- 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.
“School safety is our top Priority. We know that our scholars cannot achieve the growth and learning they are capable of unless they feel safe in the learning environment. We took a comprehensive look at our safety procedures and will continue to adapt, learn, and change as necessary,” said GRPS Superintendent Leadriane Roby, Ph.D. “As we continue to engage the community and ask our supporters to Reimagine GRPS with Us!, creating Safe, Healthy, and Healing school environments will be central in our goals. It’s no coincidence that ‘safe’ is mentioned first.”
“The measures we announced today are part of an ongoing conversation around securing and protecting our schools while fostering a welcoming and warm environment for our scholars. It’s a challenging balance and we will continue dialogue and engagement on how to continue making improvements,” said Larry Johnson, Chief of Staff & Executive Director of School Security and Public Safety. “While we are committed to doing everything within our power in our schools, we cannot do this alone. We need our families to support this work, talk to our scholars and be aware of what our children are taking with them when they leave home.”
School resumes on August 22.