In addition to gun at Henry Clay, 7 Fayette schools saw ‘unfounded’ rumors, threats.

Fayette Superintendent Manny Caulk wrote parents Sunday that in addition to finding a gun at Henry Clay High School, the school district has dealt with unfounded rumors and unsubstantiated prank social media threats in seven schools.

“This is more than a school problem. We have a community problem. And we will need a broad-based solution that bridges homes and schools,” he said.

Caulk said Fayette is the only district in the state seeking to address these critical issues by assembling a multi-agency group of stakeholders to study school safety. The District Safety Advisory Council is volunteering their time this month to deliver actionable recommendations for safer schools.

Some of those changes may require legislative action, and he told families “we will need your advocacy to make them a reality.”

“As you know, we are facing another year of continued underfunding of education in the governor’s proposed budget.”

“Although the House version of the budget is more encouraging, we will need communitywide support to impress upon our lawmakers the critical importance of fully funding public education in addition to increasing investments in school safety and security and mental health services. Please join our teachers and school leaders who are raising their voices in Frankfort to advocate for public education. We should not have to choose between safe schools or quality classroom instruction. Our children deserve both.”

Caulk informed parents about “the steps we’ve taken in the past week to ensure that our schools are the safest place for students in our community.”

Caulk said since his February 22 press conference on school safety:

▪ Links to a STOP Tipline have been added to the top of the web page of every school and special program serving middle or high schools students.

▪ Fifty additional hand-held metal detector wands have been distributed to secondary schools.

▪ Additional school personnel have been added in all middle and high schools where the front door does not lead to a secure vestibule.

▪ The district has increased law enforcement presence in all of our schools and administrators are regularly checking exterior doors to ensure that they are locked and secure at all times.

▪ Schools have started the process of providing picture IDs to all district employees, scheduling additional emergency drills and rolling out the enhanced emergency communication system to provide updates to families. He said the district also is adding additional capacity in the area of social media to quickly respond to concerns both from a communication and policing standpoint.

Caulk asked parents to help by having a conversation with children about the appropriate and responsible use of social media and by monitoring their posts and texts. Experts also recommend limiting screen time and regularly checking children’s rooms and backpacks to ensure that they only have access to things that support a healthy lifestyle, he said.

“We have strict protocols to ensure that every possible report is fully investigated to safeguard our students. It is critical for our students to understand that there are serious consequences for intentionally making false statements or perpetrating pranks to cause alarm and disrupt the learning environment,” he said.

Caulk said last week was the first meeting of the District Safety Advisory Council, which includes students, teachers, parents, principals, district officials, Lexington-Fayette Urban County representatives, community advocates, law enforcement officers, business representatives and faith leaders.

“While it was encouraging to learn that school crimes are decreasing, it was disheartening to hear that school incidents are increasing at the same time that funding for school safety has been severely cut. The experts also advised the council against knee-jerk reactions to individual incidents and suggested that the group only consider programs, policies, and practices that have demonstrated effectiveness.”

Caulk said that it was unfortunate that presentations by safety experts at that meeting were “interrupted by some of our audience members. I apologized to our expert speakers and council members. Anyone coming to share their knowledge with our council and our community deserves our full respect and appropriate decorum as we seek to identify solutions that will benefit all students,” Caulk said.

The students and parents who interrupted during the meeting were upset about a loaded gun being found on Henry Clay’s campus earlier that day, and that the topic was not immediately addressed at the meeting.

“This is an emotional issue for all of us, but we have to keep our discourse civil and talk with each other instead of at each other,” Caulk wrote. “The public is welcome to attend the District Safety Advisory Council Meetings to listen and we have provided a means for electronic participation ... but these are not open forums or town hall meetings. We need to allow our council members to engage with the experts so that the recommendations will be the very best they can be.”

The next meeting of the District Safety Advisory Council will be March 8, 2018, at Tates Creek High School. The topic will be juvenile justice and we will have guest speakers Heather Matics, a prosecutor with the Fayette County attorney's office, and Judge Libby Messer, Family Court judge for Division 1 of Fayette Circuit Court, to share information with the council and community.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears