FARGO - In sharing their concerns at a school safety forum, both parents and educators in Fargo-Moorhead said that while an active shooter is their greatest fear, it's the daily violence in classrooms and lack of mental health resources that needs to be addressed.
At Fargo South High School on Monday, Aug. 27, school board members and administrators, law enforcement, legislators and school staff from across the region took part in one of several statewide safety forums hosted by the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction and other education and human service agencies.
The forum's format was open for anyone to take the microphone and bring up an idea, issue or opinion about improving school safety. Sparking the need for such forums came in the aftermath of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting in February.
"We have a crisis across this state," said Rep. Pamela Anderson, D-Fargo. "We can bond for water treatment plants and roads. We can't bond for our behavior health crisis... We've got to something. What we we're doing now isn't working."
On the topic of arming teachers, Nick Archuleta, president of North Dakota United teachers association, said that members are opposed three to one to carrying firearms in schools.
Archuleta added that more social workers in elementary school and counselors in high schools will help proactively intervene to "stop something before it starts."
Kim Erickson, a teacher at Fargo's Ed Clapp Elementary and a mother of children in the West Fargo School District, said that violence toward peers and teachers in school "happens every day," while school shootings aren't as frequent despite media attention and public perception.
"We're not really just thinking about crisis moments," she said. "We're thinking of what it's like to teach under those conditions and continue to get up the next morning and face it again, and again, and again."
West Fargo Officer Jason Balvik, who has been a school resource officer for nine years, said that growing enrollment makes patrolling schools more difficult. With 1,700 students in one building, he said it's like a "small city confined to a small area," so conflict and disagreements come up - especially with social media.
"At the click of a button, I could have 60 kids turned against one student," he said of the power of social media and in urging parents to monitor their children's social media use.
Morgan Forness, superintendent of Central Cass Schools, said that the violence and sexual content students are exposed to online everyday "creates situations where they are more prone to violence. And I think this is a very serious problem in this country."
A mother of a Fargo student with severe trauma, Victoria Johnson, questioned whether teachers are adequately trained to handle a child like hers. She also asked if resource officers follow school policy and procedures in properly handling students in crisis.
Robin Nelson, a Fargo school board member, said that there needs to be a separate pot of money for schools to address safety rather than coming out of district's general fund. John Rodenbiker, another Fargo school board member, said that within Fargo's budget, more than $1.5 million is allocated to school safety.
Dr. Angela Cavett, a psychologist who attended Monday's forum with her teenage daughter, took the opportunity to speak directly to the legislators in the room after Rep. Karla Rose Hanson, D-Fargo, said that there needs to be more funding for mental health.
"I think it's interesting that behavioral health is something that is such an important issue and yet a year and half ago our Medicaid funding for psychologists, social workers, counselors, was cut... That's a big issue," she said. "If we really do care about behavioral health, we need to look at how we're funding Medicaid services for the most vulnerable."
Other topics addressed at the forum include metal detectors, bullet resistant windows, secure school entrances, threat-assessment training and early childhood intervention.