After fatal shootings on March 21 near Brogden Middle School in which two teenagers were killed and a third was injured, members of the Durham Public Schools community are grappling with how to move forward.
The shooting near Brogden is the second fatal shooting connected to Durham Public Schools in a month, after a teen was killed near Hillside High School in February. According to WRAL, DPS high school students Angel Canales and Osmar Banegas were killed in the Brogden shooting. The third teen has not been identified.
“Once again, Durham Public Schools has been touched by gun violence,” DPS Superintendent Pascal Mubenga said at the March 23 school board meeting. “We have to ask ourselves the hard question: What has changed in our community? We have to face it, and then we have to answer it with what our community is going to do about it”
Sarah Dawson, a Brogden parent and psychotherapist specializing in trauma treatment, said the school’s administration can improve how it responds to emergencies.
Dawson said parents and students arrived at Brogden on March 22 to discover police on the scene. Police instructed parents to drop off their children in front of the building due to the active crime scene in the back. Helicopters circled overhead.
According to Dawson, when the lockdown ended, teachers discouraged students from talking about what happened or checking their phones. As students went to class and took exams, it was unclear whether there was still an active threat on campus.
“Telling someone they’re safe while all their external sensory information says otherwise is confusing and ultimately trust breaking. I think we can do better to insulate our children,” said Dawson.
School administrators are collaborating on a response plan, said DPS chairwoman Bettina Umstead.
“I’ve spoken to some of our city and county officials. We are considering what to do to keep our students engaged — engaged in learning, engaged in work experiences, and engaged in joy,” Umstead said.
Community members emphasized the need for ongoing communication with students. Walter Bloom, a parent of three DPS students, called for a day of mourning to honor the lives of the students who were lost.
“They need to hear your words that you spoke to this boardroom in the light of the shootings that are going on,” said Bloom, who has a child at Brodgen. “This tragedy will happen again if we don’t do anything, if we follow a process that does not imply more than business as usual.”
Shelley Rudy, another Brogden parent, said more trauma counselors are needed at the school for both students and staff.
“It’s unfair what we’re asking of our teachers right now. It’s unfair the burden that we’re putting on them, post-Covid, to keep our students safe and teach them in a time of such a deep mental health crisis,” Rudy said.
According to DPS Chief Financial Officer Paul LeSieur, the current ratio of mental health counselors to students in the school system is approximately 1 to 276.
Board member Jonovia Lewis stressed the importance of supporting mental health services at DPS as the board continues to review the budget for the next school year. “If we’re asking for more, I really want us to center our mental health support. I think we have a lot of needs and a lot of requests. The worst they could say is no.”