Georgia has its own definition of a “persistently dangerous school,” but no Georgia school has been labeled as such since 2005, according to the Department of Education.
For a school to be persistently dangerous, it must have at least one student found by official tribunal action to have violated a school rule related to a violent criminal offense. This includes aggravated battery, aggravated sexual battery, armed robbery, arson, kidnapping, murder and other offenses.
The crime must have taken place on campus or at a school-sanctioned event.
The other criteria includes finding at least 2% of the student population or 10 students who have violated school rules related to criminal offenses, like non-felony drugs, felony drugs, felony weapons or terroristic threats.
If a school has any combination of these cases for three consecutive years, it would be categorized as a persistently dangerous school. Once this occurs, the school district is required to give students the option of transferring to a safe public school.
Although Gainesville Middle doesn’t reach the state’s criteria for being dangerous, some of the school’s faculty members fear it’s on the verge.
The Times spoke with a group of three teachers from Gainesville Middle on Thursday, Jan. 30. The teachers asked to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions to their careers.
“We’re not dangerous now,” one teacher said of the school. “But, it’s not a matter of if. It’s a matter of when, if things don’t change.”
The group considers themselves “seasoned teachers” who love their students and want them to succeed.
“I can say that we really care about our school, and I hate seeing what it has become,” one teacher said. “You can blame the kids, the community, but like the Newtown Florist Club has said, something is broke. Something is different. We feel it too.”
Abraham Trujillo — a seventh grader at Gainesville Middle — said he has witnessed bullying at his school but doesn’t see it as any worse than other schools.
He is a member of the local Boy Scouts Troop 15, which is composed of several Gainesville Middle students. Bill Christian, assistant Scoutmaster, said he teaches the boys ways to prevent bullying in school.
“It’s just simple,” Abraham said. “It’s just respect, and treating people the way you want to be treated. I know it’s cliche, but it’s true.”
Parents getting involved
Griselda Garcia, who has two children at the middle school, said she makes a point to talk to her kids about bullying, so they can prevent it.
“I tell them that you have to respect people and that some are different from us,” Garcia said. “I tell my boy and girl, if someone bullies you, don’t pay attention to them. That’s what bullies want, attention.”
If more parents were involved in their kids’ lives, fewer instances of fighting, bullying and other incidents would happen, the group of teachers said.
“Parents, come be with your kids,” one teacher advised. “Sit in the class with your kids. If teachers call, don’t automatically be like, “What did my kid do today?”
The teachers said the parents who don’t cooperate with them and show zero involvement typically have the children with the most problems.
Garcia said she tries to attend as many school meetings as possible.
Even though Gainesville Middle has nearly 2,000 students, Garcia said normally around 10 parents attend the meetings. The middle school holds them in the morning and afternoon, to accommodate people’s schedules.
“That surprised me,” she said. “Parents say that they’re sometimes mad with the teachers and the school, but they never go to the meetings. Some people don’t help because they don’t care. It is your responsibility as a parent to support them.”
Joy Griffin has one child in sixth grade and another in seventh. Both of her boys stay active in school robotics, baseball and basketball. Griffin said she has never felt like the school was an unsafe environment for her children.
“By being super involved in those group opportunities, they’ve never come home with a story about seeing someone bullied or experiencing that,” Griffin said. “My kids have been in the Gainesville City School system since kindergarten, and we have had nothing but love and incredible academics.”
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