‘It’s just very, very complex’: Parents weigh in on issue of gun violence near Garfield High

SEATTLE — Many students, parents, and staff at Garfield High School addressed both city and school district leaders Monday night on their concerns about safety on and off campus. This comes after police have responded to several shootings in the past few weeks, as well as a gun violence threat made to Garfield High last week, forcing the school to dismiss early and go to remote learning the next day.

The meeting was closed to both the public and the press. KIRO 7 asked both Seattle Public Schools and the PTSA if there was a way to be inside, but both agreed they wanted to keep it just for those immediately impacted. Parents off camera told KIRO 7 that overall there were good talking points on how to improve security in the area going forward. And for parents like Sarah, she believes this was a good start to a tough conversation, but there is still more to go when it comes to discussing the issue of gun violence.

“Do we prioritize mental health? Do we prioritize building community?” asked Sarah.

Sarah also said there is a sense of nervousness because of the recent lockdown, as well as shootings that have happened both on and off campus.

“There’s the anxiety for parents and probably representing the anxiety of their students to some extent,” she said.

Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz was also in attendance. Overall, he felt like there were constructive conversations between his department, Seattle Public Schools, and the Garfield High family. He said for the rest of the school year, they will be supplying extra patrol in the area.

“Every round that is being fired creates trauma. And so we want to make sure that we are doing our part that we are providing extra security and emphasis in this area,” Chief Diaz said.

And while many at Monday’s meeting still feel there is a lot more to do to address the issue of gun violence, they remain hopeful.

“So, whatever it takes. We should all agree that the bottom line is keeping our kids safe and alive,” Victoria Beach with African American Community Advisory Council said.

“I think it’s important to gather just to see in numbers and see that there are people who care,” Sarah said.

SPS Superintendent Brent Jones did not go on camera after the meeting but provided this statement:

School safety and student wellness remain at the top of my mind every day. Gun and community violence takes a toll on our students, educators, and families. We know it’s critical for our students and staff to feel safe so that learning can happen. This year, gun violence has directly affected schools across our district.

In recent weeks, instances of gun violence and threats have increased in the neighborhood surrounding two of our high schools: Garfield and Nova. These are not the only schools where we have needed to address threats or gun violence, but they are the most recent.

A week ago, Garfield’s principal, Dr. Hart, scheduled a meeting with students, families, and staff to discuss safety and security. That meeting is tonight.

On Thursday, we received information from credible sources that there was a threat of gun violence planned for after dismissal at Garfield. The Seattle Police Department and our district Safety and Security personnel evaluated the threat.

Given the recent incidents that have taken place in the neighborhood, district leaders, in consultation with Principal Hart and SPS security, decided that early dismissal for Thursday was the appropriate action given the specifics available as to timing of the threat.

After further evaluation, we decided that moving students at both schools to remote learning on Friday, June 2, would give us the time to develop a plan for the coming weeks.

Students returned to in-person learning today, with additional security in place and increased patrols by Seattle Police Department.

We are taking these threats very seriously and being proactive as well as reactive. While these actions address the immediate concerns, we know we cannot act alone.

We can work to address school campus safety, but if gun violence and threats are outside of our schools, we are reliant on partners to help us tackle those issues including the city and police department, and other community-based organizations.

We all need to come together around increased gun violence throughout Seattle.

I appreciate what Dr. Hart is doing to connect with the Garfield High School community, including tonight’s meeting. SPS will continue to seek help with this citywide issue while also doing work to assess and improve safety on our campuses. – Dr. Brent Jones

Garfield High School Principal Tarance Hart provided this statement as well:

I appreciate the support the Garfield community has been receiving from district administrators. I am concerned about the increase in violence in our community, and I know it has raised concerns for students, families, and staff.

The safety of our Garfield students and staff is my top priority. Prior to the events last Thursday and Friday, I had scheduled a community safety meeting for tonight. The meeting has become even more important to all of us after a threat led to early dismissal on Thursday and remote learning on Friday.

The goal of tonight’s meeting is to identify solutions and strategies that we can implement to address safety concerns about our campus after school hours.

I recognize the importance of engaging the wider Seattle community, including our neighbors in the Central District. This meeting is specifically to engage our Garfield community around campus safety.

We will provide a safety and security update, gather ideas for a safety plan to finish this school year, and additional ideas to plan for the 2023-24 school year.

Thank you to all of those who take part every day in working to create a safe and welcoming school for our students and staff. – Tarance Hart

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