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Parents speak out about kids' safety at middle school

GRANDVIEW - During last night's Grandview School Board meeting, parents from throughout the district expressed their heartfelt concerns about the safety of children in Grandview schools.

The Grandview Education Association was on hand to hear what was said at the school board meeting. "We all have common concerns. I encourage everyone to please listen to what is said tonight. The education district wants to feel like we are a part of it," said Grandview Education Association President Dwayne Brecto.

Many parents expressed the fear they say their children have shared about school with them. "My kids don't feel safe. Bullies and gangs are a problem. My son has been harassed and stabbed at school and the doctor said there was no way it was a pencil as administrators had claimed," expressed Angie Harris.

She told board members that the student who stabbed her son received a five-day suspension. "There is a need for more discipline," she added, telling board members she had been told by teachers that athletes are the main target of gangs and bullies. She said her daughter refuses to participate in sports because of the claim.

Brecto said, "Our teachers and staff have attempted to resolve these issues with (Grandview Middle School) building Principal Matt Mallery and with Superintendent Kevin Chase with no success." He stated that the district has failed to adequately address school violence and enforce student discipline, adding that the district's "Zero Tolerance" policy for weapons is not enforced. "Students who have brought weapons to school have been allowed to return to school," Brecto said.

Chase said the school district and city officials, including the Grandview Police Department, have recognized the resurgence of gangs in Grandview. "We recognize the need to combat gangs and violence in Grandview," he stated.

"It is my hope that you are here to be a part of the solution," he said.

Chase addressed the audience with, "Let me outline some of the actions we have taken."

He said the school district, in cooperation with Grandview City Administrator Scott Staples, Grandview Police Chief Dave Charvet, probation officers from Yakima, the ministerial association, district principals, and vice principals has implemented several programs at Grandview Middle School. "Frenzy Fridays is an example of the programs," he commented.

"Our efforts are in prevention, intervention and suppression," said Chase.

He also highlighted the district's efforts in bringing guest speakers to talk to parents and students regarding the dangers of gangs and bullying.

He noted the addition of a school resource officer and the newly formed Grandview United group, which involves many city leaders who want to help address issues in the community.

Grandview United member Lorene Contreras addressed the Grandview School Board saying she attended the evening's meeting after watching the evening news. She said, "The Grandview United meetings are to help community members address concerns about Grandview Middle School and the community. We have grown and some safety concerns in the school and community have been addressed with two action plans having been started."

She added that she was pleased when students and teachers attend the Grandview United meetings "...because it can help the group to be better informed."

Chase said the school district has put together a list of youth activities to help children and the list is available in the Parent Resource Center.

One parent, identified only as Cynthia, said she was present as a person who is "...on both sides of the coin. My son has been threatened and intimidated by gang members. On the other side of the coin, I work at Compass, which is labeled as a gang school. At first, I was afraid to work there. But, we have to remember the purpose is to educate students...These kids are district kids."

She continued by saying safety is a concern for all the schools and that in her 37 years living in the district she has not seen anything like she sees now. "But, we have to remember some of these kids can be salvaged," she concluded.

Another parent, Tracy King, said even though she is a school employee (like many of the other parents) she was at the meeting as a parent. She said she doesn't feel intimidated when she walks onto the Grandview Middle School campus. But, she wanted to know if changes in school policies are coming because "...we don't expel due to students obtaining attorneys.

"Why aren't our kids being protected over the problem kids? I was told there wasn't a problem when I asked about gangs, and my son likes his school.

"But, I can't keep him here if you can't protect him!" she exclaimed.

Paula Mattice asked the board, "How can I tell my son he's safe?"

Mallery, Grandview Middle School Principal, tried to address the concerns of the parents in attendance at Monday's meeting with a Power Point presentation, outlining the staff changes and what the duties of additional staff currently include. "The only job for the campus security officer is to monitor the campus. Our SRO is officer Rob Colley and he is there for prevention, processes, arrests and detaining students who are a problem. We have an in school detention supervisor who supervises detentions and gives students reflective activities," he said.

He explained to the board and those in attendance the various communication methods utilized at Grandview Middle School, along with various security features at the school. "The cameras on campus are digital and we plan to add more," he stated.

Chase also noted in his earlier comments, "We have weekly meetings with the vice principals, the security officer, the police, the SRO and the Yakima probation officer so we can understand what is going on. The police have emphasis patrols on some Fridays and do sweeps for gangs."

Grandview Middle School Vice Principal Jack Dalton provided the board members and audience with statistics of detentions, suspensions and expulsions. He said the office referrals, which are more serious than lunch or after school detention, have gone down from 1,809 in the 2002-03 school year to 765 during the current school year leading up to Friday, March 23.

Weapons violations and fights have also decreased, Dalton said. During the 2002-03 school year the fights handled by Grandview Middle School were at a high of 162 and the current school year is projected at 48 with 35 to date. The high statistic for knifes at school was during the 2003-04 school year at 15 and this year is projected at nine with five incidents so far.

The other statistics on a graph provided by Dalton show numbers down from previous years. "Most of the fights did not occur at the middle school, they were off of school grounds after school," Dalton noted.

Overall, school district officials wanted to assure parents and teachers that they are working to help students feel safer, including GREAT training for the school resource officer.

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