Takeaways from 'Generation Under Fire' town hall

Panel members say they took away need for open communication

By Elizabeth Campbell - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The community gave feedback the day after Wednesday night's "Generation Under Fire" town hall, which was hosted by News4Jax in partnership with the Public Policy Institute at Jacksonville University.

The event provided an opportunity for local law enforcement officials, educators, health professionals and students to come together and discuss what can be done to ensure safety at schools.

One of the main takeaways from the town hall is that there's a continuing concern that anyone is able to walk onto a school campus.

It's a legitimate concern, as many public schools in Jacksonville don't have a fence surrounding the property. That's one safety measure that Duval County and other Northeast Florida school districts are working on improving.

But some students at the town hall said there's no time to wait. 

After the town hall, a comment was posted on News4Jax.com that read, "I can still, today, walk into Mandarin High School without being stopped."

Mandarin High School isn't the only school without fencing and an open gate at the entrance. That's normal for many schools throughout Duval and surrounding counties. 

But it's a normal many students and parents want changed.

REPLAY: 'Generation Under Fire' broadcast/discussion
BLOG: Discussion during town hall broadcast
RELATED: Students make voices heard at 'Generation Under Fire' town hall

"They do have the gate closed most of the time, but then again, it's not hard if somebody really wanted to get on there, they could," said Anja Kellem, the mother of a Mandarin High School freshman. "It wouldn't hurt to, maybe, do a little bit more."

Several students on stage Wednesday evening expressed similar concerns about their schools, saying it's easy for anyone to walk on their campus and blend in, as police said the shooter did at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

On Thursday, News4Jax spoke with some of the "Generation Under Fire" panel members, asking them what they took away from the discussion.

One of the common takeaways was having open communication.

"As an educational leader, I was saddened to hear that the students in attendance did not feel safe at their respective schools nor did they understand the proactive steps that school districts are and have taken to ensure a safe and respectful environment. Last evening validated that we must engage each learner not only to hear, but listen to their voices and work collectively to take action and ensure that they feel psychologically safe in our schools and community," Clay County Schools Superintendent Addison Davis said. "Additionally, last night's program proved that educators cannot work in isolation as it will take parents, caregivers, behavior and mental health specialists, community partners and local law enforcement to create a restorative and healthy mindset for all."

Bradford County Undersheriff Brad Smith said he took away that the school safety discussion between adults and students needs to continue after the town hall.

"I would have to say the biggest takeaway I had was the need to communicate constantly, with transparency and honesty," Smith said. "As long as the public understands what the actual situation involves, they are willing to be part of the solution to the problem."

Smith also recognized the students who participated in "Generation Under Fire."

"They represented themselves and their school districts with grace and dignity," he said. 

Other comments that News4Jax received from viewers during the town hall included:

  • "You need to put signs up in the school 'if you see it, say it' and put phone #s on it."
  • "IT STARTS AT HOME."
  • "Counselors should be accessible and when the load becomes too much for (a) counselor, there should be resources that the counselor can reach out to and refer a child to other partnering agencies."

Even after the town hall, News4Jax continues to receive feedback on school safety. Please comment in this story or tweet @wjxt4.

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