The St. Louis Board of Education took the brunt of the frustration about gun violence that has taken the lives of a dozen children in the city from residents, parents and school staff Thursday night.
The school board held a special meeting at its Vashon High School to listen to ideas for how to keep its students alive.
Board members and district leadership say they are equally vexed by the deadly past several months, during which six St. Louis Public Schools students have been shot and killed — four over their summer vacation and two in the early weeks of the school year. At least two more have been wounded by gunfire.
“What I’m hopeful of is that we can motivate people who are the decision-makers to think differently by giving voice to those kids or their families who don’t have voice to say, 'This is the impact; this is the real impact of what happens,'” Superintendent Kelvin Adams said in an interview before the meeting.
Speakers complained about a toxic environment in schools where staff are overworked and students are bullied. They asked for more resources to help kids resolve conflicts before they result in deadly violence and after-school programs for kids to have safe spaces.
“When I say violence, I’m not just talking about guns; I’m talking about fighting, whatever, which oftentimes, we know, leads to gun violence,” said Chris Gardner, an educator. “Unless they can be able to resolve conflicts before it comes to that, it can always lead to more serious incidents.”
One resident questioned why nurses, counselors and social workers are split between more than one school.
Darren Seals called on all the men in the room to stand up for his remarks.
“Let’s get together and put something together, and let’s go out here and save our babies,” he pleaded. “I hear a lot of folks talking. It’s time, fellas, men, everybody.”
Shonte Smith said: “There’s a lot of pain and there’s a lot of hurt in this room, but one of the things that we’re not identifying and we’re not connecting with is that there’s a cultural disconnect between the home, the school, the community and the church. And the student is in the middle.”
At times, the meeting turned into a chance for people to vent about concerns beyond gun violence, such as school funding and administrative leadership. The board promised not to limit the number of speakers but, by board bylaws, are not allowed to respond directly to public comments. About 200 people attended the meeting in Vashon’s auditorium.
Only one arrest has been made in the more than a dozen killings of children in 2019. Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner — one of a handful of elected officials who attended the forum at the board’s invitation — received a standing ovation as she spoke to the crowd.
The city’s top prosecutor called for more social workers in schools instead of increasing the number of police officers, because the criminals she’s charging are getting younger, noting young people have traumatic stress from experiencing and witnessing violence.
“Until we address that traumatized young person that is hurt,” Gardner said, “hurt people hurt (other) people.”
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