Lathan, key community leaders discuss strategies to increase school safety

Houston Independent School District Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan engaged in a school safety discussion on Friday with key community leaders to discuss strategies to ensure student safety and security. 

The meeting was an additional measure to engage with HISD stakeholders in the wake of the tragic shooting at Bellaire High School last month, which resulted in the death of a student.

Dr. Lathan has held a one-on-one meeting with students at Bellaire to hear from them and address their concerns and will be meeting with one student representative from every high school on a recurring basis moving forward. These meetings — along with consultations with principals and reconvening safety and security council committees on every campus — are an effort to increase vigilance and preventative measures in schools. 

“We are at a point and place to talk about what we need to do as a community to make sure that all of our students are physically and mentally safe,” Lathan said, as she opened the key community leaders meeting. “This conversation today is about what we can do for students’ well-being together as a community.”  

The morning’s discussion first centered around the current gun violence, as well as the specific safety measures that are underway in HISD, such as mental health supports, metal detector assessments, and safety and security council meetings.  

Lathan, student leaders discuss campus safety and security

“We need to take a proactive approach to ensure not only that our students feel safe in school but are safer in school,” Board of Education President Sue Deigaard said. “We are a large district, and we have a lot of capacity, but our capacity is expanded through community engagement.”  

Kristi Rangel, Public Health Education Chief for the City of Houston, discussed the Youth Justice Council and additional programs that are bringing city and county resources together to bridge the gap between school and community to better support students.  

“The idea is to have a more upstream approach,” she said. “We aim to assist the campus and the community with some of those additional services that kids and families are in need of.”  

According to Marisa Nowitz with the Texas Children’s Trauma and Grief Center, many issues affecting students arise from unresolved trauma. She stressed the importance of recognizing signs of traumatic stress and discussed best practices around dealing with trauma and grief in the classroom.  

“Signs of traumatic stress can often mask itself as conduct or behavior problems,” she said. “It is imperative that educators use a trauma and bereavement informed lens to re-establish a sense of safety and security for students.” 

The conversation shifted towards the current cultural psyche facing our students today. Community of Faith Bishop James Dixon emphasized the 3 M’s: Messaging, Mentoring and Modeling — stating that you must change students’ mindsets to bring about transformative change.  

“There needs to be a renewed ideal around prevention and intervention,” he said. “Until you change your mind, you cannot permanently alter your behavior.”