Cassville students hold rally for school safety
Middle school student council calls for peer dialogue, added security measures
For about 15 minutes on Thursday, Cassville Middle School students took to the campus courtyard to hold a rally for school safety, organized by the school's Student Council.
Jimmy Barton, Cassville Middle School principal and district safety director, said plans for the event began about three weeks ago, not long after the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 dead.
"We had heard rumors in our building and other buildings on campus, and other districts, about the nationwide walk-out date of March 14 (Wednesday)," Barton said. "I met with our Student Council and just sat and listened. We gauged interest for two reasons: one, if we needed to plan for anything, and two, if we could do something appropriate and scheduled without the negative connotation of students just walking out of class.
"We asked the Student Council how many students they thought would walk out, and they estimated about half would. From there, we started a process of determining if the students felt the need to do this, let's do it in a productive manner. I asked them when they wanted to do it, what the message would be and how long they'd need. The speeches were pre-approved to prevent any foul language and to adhere to school policy, and we made sure they had a secure platform, and the details were completely up to them."
Student Council members spoke about numerous topics at the event, saying school safety was not being taken seriously enough and proclaiming, "We are the answer."
"We are here to honor the 17 students shot in Florida," one student said. "School should not be a place for hate and anger. We have to be more involved and make new friends. If someone is causing a disruption, ask them why. We can make a difference, and it's time to change things."
Alongside the calls for dialogue and compassion among their peers, students also proposed added security for the school and district. Student Council members proposed participation in shooting drills, adding more security officers and installing metal detectors, among other proposals.
"We need to know when threats occur," the students said. "Inside, we could install metal detectors and add more security, and outside, we should not leave any doors propped open. As Jill LeCompte says, let's make this the safest middle school in the country."
The event closed with a prayer led by a Student Council member, who also asked those wishing not to participate in the prayer to not disrupt it. Then, Student Council members handed out index cards to all students to gather ideas for improvement in school safety.
"They took it a step further [with the index cards]," Barton said. "I did not know they would ask for suggestions, and I thought that was a nice touch. I hope they put those into some kind of document to present to the teachers and possibly administration."
Barton said the students decided to hold the event the day after the nationwide walk-out.
"They wanted a different date because they did not want to enter the political debate about gun control versus a rally on general school safety and honoring victims of school shootings," Barton said. "Their purpose was to raise awareness and promote a positive message. I'm proud of our kids for holding a well-thought, organized event, and the students were respectful and listened to what their peers had to say."
Barton said no students walked out on Wednesday, and a plan was in place should any student have walked out.
"We had a plan to monitor any students who walked out, even if they went off-campus," Barton said. "We also had extra people stationed in different areas keeping an eye out. Had a student walked out, we would have pulled that student in and had a conversation about the planned [walk-out] and how we'd like for them to take part in that.
"As far as discipline for a student that walked out, that would depend on if the student was disruptive to the learning environment, and we would follow school policy for discipline just like any other disruption."
When it comes to security, Barton said the district has one School Resource Officer for its two campuses, but no additional security staff.
"We have some trainings planned for staff before the end of the year, and I will soon be forming a committee with representatives from each building to review emergency plans, update our plans and share that information with law enforcement," Barton said.
Barton said the school has not dealt with any major threats, although he said there were rumors of something happening at the rally.
"Personally, I believe it got a little sensationalized in the rumor mill, but we did isolate one person and took care of that in house," he said.
Barton said he appreciates the feedback from parents about the event.
"We had some concerned parents and some supportive parents, and I appreciate that because it opens up a dialogue," he said.