Lawrence High students concerned about communication, leadership after recent gun incidents

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

Lawrence High School juniors Siona Baker and Nola Levings talk about recent gun-related incidents that have occurred at the school during a meeting of SAFER, or Students Advocating Firearm Education and Reform, on Feb. 24, 2019 at the Lawrence Public Library.

Student advocates in a Lawrence High School group met Sunday — for the first time since two students allegedly brought guns to the school recently — and discussed concerns about their school’s safety, communication and inconsistent procedures.

Ten student members of SAFER, or Students Advocating Firearm Education & Reform, and the group’s adviser, Abby Gonzales Hoffman, came to the Lawrence Public Library on Sunday afternoon to discuss recent incidents and what they hope to ask and accomplish soon.

The group first formed after the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., which left 17 students and staff members dead and injured many others. The group has also gone to Topeka to oppose a bill that would have armed teachers in schools, and it led student walkouts last year, including one that drew about 600 students to South Park on April 20 to commemorate victims of the Columbine shooting.

More recently, one student allegedly brought a loaded gun to school on Feb. 6, and another reportedly did the same on Feb. 12. Another student reportedly brought a Taser to campus on Feb. 14.

Last Thursday, Feb. 21, the school went on lockdown for about half an hour after a suspect reportedly fled the scene of an armed robbery at a nearby payday loan business.

SAFER members at Sunday’s meeting shared their varying experiences during the lockdown. President Sami Turner, a junior at LHS, said her teacher had gone over procedures with her class before so she and her classmates knew what to expect. The teacher grabbed a student that was in the hallway and locked the door, and students closed the blinds, Turner said.

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

Lawrence High School junior Sami Turner, left, president of SAFER (Students Advocating Firearm Education and Reform), and senior Adi Spears, the group’s vice president, talk about the group’s questions and goals during a meeting on Feb. 24, 2019 at the Lawrence Public Library.

Adi Spears, SAFER vice president, said the substitute teacher for her class didn’t know lockdown procedures at all, but students did what they knew they were supposed to do.

Another student said her teacher did his best to help students stay calm and talked about the differences between situations where someone might actually be armed inside the school versus Thursday’s situation.

LHS junior Anoosha Redd said she thought it could be an issue how different teachers approached the same situation in such different ways.

“They’re in the situations, they’re the adults, so it is their choice in a way, but it’s kind of confusing,” Redd said.

They’re also concerned about messages from district and school administrators.

Several students on Sunday said they were concerned about messages that came over the intercom during Thursday’s lockdown. They said people in their classes were generally staying calm until they heard a panicked voice say things such as “text your loved ones” and “take care of each other and watch out.”

“That will trigger a lot of people, especially in that kind of situation,” said LHS junior Siona Baker.

Baker said she was heading back to LHS from the Lawrence College and Career Center when she saw messages on Snapchat about the Feb. 12 gun incident. She said she had to call someone at LHS to make sure it was safe for her to come back because she hadn’t received an email about what was going on.

“If there was immediate danger there, I would not have known,” she said.

Emily Kruse, SAFER’s social media manager, said she was “frustrated, to say the least” with how the gun incidents had been handled. Namely, she didn’t understand why there was a lockdown on Thursday for something that happened entirely outside the school’s walls, but not for either of the gun incidents or the Taser incident.

Redd said the updates students received during the lockdown were just the same message repeated, and not real updates. The group added that concern to its list of questions to address and goals it wants to accomplish.

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

Lawrence High School senior Julian Weslander, front, speaks during a meeting of SAFER (Students Advocating Firearm Education and Reform) on Feb. 24, 2019 at the Lawrence Public Library. Also pictured, from left to right, are SAFER Vice President Adi Spears, a senior; junior Mollie Coffey; junior Jillian Decker; and junior Anoosha Redd.

The students also were frustrated that they haven’t heard from administrators in the school about the problem. Though Superintendent Anthony Lewis spoke at the district’s community conversation on public safety held Thursday evening at the school, none of the Lawrence High administrators spoke.

“The administrators are supposed to help set the culture of our school and help calm us and be the leading figures, but yet, there’s a massive absence there,” Turner said. “What are we supposed to do without any direction?”

Another goal is better security for the school’s entrances. Turner said the building has 32 entrances and 29 are open, and the group would like to see if more of them could be locked.

Other goals include outlets for teachers to express their concerns without fear, more practice drills, increased advertisement of mental health services available on campus, and training for substitute teachers and for students.

SAFER members are planning another April 20 rally this year. It falls on a Saturday, so they hope to involve more members of the community.

Contact Mackenzie Clark

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More coverage: Recent gun incidents at LHS

Feb. 14 — Boy who took gun to LHS this week stole it from parent, charges allege

Feb. 12 — Lawrence school district announces immediate actions to address gun incidents on campus

Feb. 12 — Lawrence High student allegedly brings gun to school; incident is second in a week, fifth in district in past year

Feb. 8 — Criminal charges filed against student who reportedly brought gun to LHS

Feb. 7 — Lawrence High student acted out in class before staff found gun in his bag, school district says

Feb. 6 — LHS student brought gun to school, Lawrence school district tells parents


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