In the first few weeks of the 2023-2024 school year here in the Forest Hills School District, the Superintendent and Board have made several critical decisions on short timetables that have left parents wondering:
On August 29th, 2023, a soft-lockdown was enacted at 7 of the district's 9 schools. In the first email sent to communicate the lockdown (full email here), Superintendent Hook stated only that "we located an unauthorized individual walking around the Anderson High School campus a short while ago" followed by his second email (available here) which stated, "After a thorough search of the area, it has been determined that the unknown individual is no longer on district property" both quotes seem to imply the man was outside the school and then somehow disappeared.
Hook's email from today (shown above) explains a more serious breach. He provides details explaining that a staff member discovered an adult male had entered Anderson High school through a propped-open side-door and found his way into the hallways during school hours.
Several sources advised us a week ago following the Forest Hills Council meeting (days before the district communicated to the public) that Superintendent Hook had shared the details now provided in an email. We at AdvocateFHSD.org have been gathering information about the incident, and before publishing anything, we reached out to the district yesterday asking for any statement on the situation and submitting a PRR for the surveillance video. Our full email is here.
We know that this time our community was lucky - and the staff member took immediate action upon discovering the intruder. However, we all know too well that this scenario could have played out very, very differently. We cannot know if the person was lost, as the email claims, or if the person was armed, had ill-intent, or simply found themselves accidentally inside a school building. EdWeek tracks school shootings, and notes that there were 51 school shootings in 2022 that resulted in injuries or deaths, the most in a single year since Education Week began tracking such incidents in 2018. We cannot risk another incident, in case we aren't as lucky the second time.
Our concern stems around the original email, which omits key details, and the decision to only provide additional insight today — nearly a week after having shared it with members of the FHC.
Community members tell us that the security breach is not the first incident this year within the district. An earlier incident is also rumored to have occurred at an elementary school, where little if any information was provided to date, we do not know of any communication from the district on that incident nor any update to the policies or protocols resulting from any evaluation there.
The board has long focused on ideological issues and unsuccessful efforts to find financial mistakes. We expect that they will point to the addition of a second Safety & Resource Officer (SRO) to the district as a safety-focused accomplishment, but they have demonstrated focus only on eliminating elements of diversity, equity inclusion and belonging, and perhaps too little on the actual safety of our students, their well-being, and the appropriate transparency to parents in the district.
We are very grateful that the district has teachers and administrators that act to keep our kids safe and provide psychological safety to all students, and that at least for today the Superintendent has realized the importance of communicating an update about a very serious security breach and the changes they plan to implement to avoid a future reoccurrence.
However, we do wonder — what kind of investigation occurred? Why did it get communicated to the Forest Hills Council before it was shared with parents? Who was involved in the investigation, and, were they qualified to do a full assessment of the breach and advise countermeasures? Why wouldn't the need for the assessment have been communicated earlier?
Psychological safety isn’t a term everyone is familiar with - but many of us know what it feels like when we aren’t in an environment that provides this kind of reassurance, and many are learning that without psychological safety we are all hindered from reaching our fullest potential and students are not exempt.
A psychologically safe environment embraces the exchange of feedback in meaningful and authentic ways, a forward-looking approach that creates a more positive and productive learning environment. Students can give and receive feedback in a respectful manner, which helps them learn from their mistakes and grow - which they are not offered the chance to do when they are focused on whether or not adults in their environment dislike them or judge their identities whether they be cultural, ethnic, religious or any other personal characteristic with which they strongly align. A psychologically safe environment is shown to increase engagement, creativity and collaboration among students, ultimately leading to better learning outcomes.
Unfortunately, in these first two weeks of this 2023-2024 year, the board and the Superintendent’s office have shown that they are either ignorant of the important underlying principles of both physical and psychological safety in educational success or, intentionally undermining them in our district.
We learned of the further erosion of psychological safety at Nagel when Superintendent Hook took steps to intentionally cover the diversity mural, which was designed and painted by former Nagel students, with a screen/banner intended to communicate the Cultural Blueprint.
As we have shared, we were initially told that this was the most prominent location to hang the screen/banner and that covering of the mural was an accident, but we later learned that this initial action was taken to appease certain board members that has had provable impact on at least one student’s psychological safety. In addition, we have been made aware that the board is reconsidering whether or not students should have access to mental health services within in the schools, by asking the current provider to submit an RFP. We hope that a service provider is selected quickly, as we understand the contract expires at the end of September, and leaving students without access to support puts them at risk and places additional burden on counselors and teachers. Additionally, we're tracking whether or not the decision by the board to re-evaluate student mental health support is linked to the relationship Linda Hausfeld has with Mom's for Liberty. M4L is labeled an extremist group, and has a chapter here in Hamilton County and is chaired by Hausfeld's sister. M4L recently tweeted about their opinion to eliminate healthcare in schools.
Transparency is about being open and accountable, honesty is about telling the truth. We don’t believe this community is getting either without pressure on the leadership and now that lack of transparency is around safety. For many parents, that’s crossing the Rubicon.
Was our email the catalyst for the update? Maybe. Maybe the district always intended to provide an update — eventually. Or, maybe the Superintendent and the board are too distracted by their efforts to eradicate diversity day, an inclusive mural, books that don’t suit their taste and not focused enough on the importance of safety at our schools.
It is our job as citizens in a democracy to question our leadership and their intentions and efforts, and as leaders, it is their responsibility — if not their obligation — to focus on the most important elements of keeping students safe, and provide clear and open communications to district families when either psychological or physical safety is jeopardized for any reason. We hope many of you will choose to join the board meeting on Wednesday, September 20th in Mercer Elementary, or, watch online and submit your questions to the district via email to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Welcome to AdvocateFHSD! We’re so happy to have you here. Strong public schools = strong communities. Here, we strive to engage and inform the FHSD community, and empower residents to be the best advocates for our students, teachers, administrators, and district.