Phoenix Union High School District revisits its school safety plan after shooting

Dec 6, 2021, 4:45 AM
(Facebook photo/Phoenix Union High School District)...
(Facebook photo/Phoenix Union High School District)
(Facebook photo/Phoenix Union High School District)

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Union High School District is looking to improve its school safety plan after a shooting last week at one of its high schools.

“We have a plan, and it’s a good time to go back to that and see what’s working and what’s not working,” Superintendent Chad Gestson told governing board members during a meeting Thursday.

The board approved the Next Gen Safety and Security Plan in 2018 and made revisions to it a year later. It includes removing school resource officers from campus and opting for off-duty officers to help with law enforcement matters.

Gestson asked board members to share ways they think the district’s current plan can be improved while stressing that school safety is “extremely complex.”

Phoenix Union Governing Board member Stanford Prescott noted there have been discussions about return-to-school resource officers and adding metal detectors after last week’s school shooting.

“I don’t think that’s the right direction for our school district,” he said. “I think that contributes to a culture of stress.”

Meanwhile, Phoenix Union Governing Board member Stephanie Parra said it’s “so imperative” that school security personnel be part of the discussions to improve the district’s school safety plan.

She stressed they play an important role, especially now that school resource officers are no longer on campus.

“Sometimes it’s the only person that a kid feels like they can go to, it’s their security personnel,” Parra said.

She added security guards are often a school counselor, social worker and therapist to students. Yet, they are not provided the tools and professional development they need to address students’ needs.

Nor does she feel they are paid enough. The starting salary for a security guard at Phoenix Union High School District is $14 to $15 an hour.

“They are struggling,” Parra said of school security personnel. “They are tired. They are overwhelmed. They feel undersupported and undervalued.”

Other governing board members suggested improving services to help students deal with mental health, noting that the pandemic has caused a lot of stress for them.

Gestson said the district is already working on that.

He said the district’s current student-to-counselor ratio is 325 to one, in addition to social workers, psychologists and other support staff. Statewide, the average is about 900 students to every school counselor.

“Our support staff ratio is arguably one of the best in Arizona, but it’s still not enough,” he said.

The governing board did not take any action on the district’s Next Gen Safety and Security Plan during Thursday’s meeting but vowed to continue discussions to improve it.

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Phoenix Union High School District revisits its school safety plan after shooting