A majority of staff members say they feel unsafe in St. Paul's high schools, but students are more upbeat in their take on school safety, according to survey results released Tuesday.

Still, nearly one in four families say they have a child who has experienced physical violence at school. And students say there are areas of their buildings that give them pause: restrooms and hallways.

"My student will not use bathrooms at school for fear of violence and exposure to drugs," a parent said. "They try and 'hold it' all day."

A summary of survey results and conversations with unnamed staff, students and families around safety issues was presented to the school board Tuesday night — three months after a student was fatally stabbed in a hallway at Harding High.

"We've got a lot of work to do moving forward," Superintendent Joe Gothard said after the presentation. "We've got to continue to engage with our community."

The Harding incident gave way to concerns about behavior in the middle and high schools, and the district set out to gather input from students and staff. In addition to the surveys, the district held community discussions about safety. The state's second-largest district intends to develop safety strategies in the short and long term, with one — a digital hall-pass system — already introduced.

District leaders were not yet ready, however, to rush into any major changes.

"We've got the summer," Gothard said.

Ideas that garnered the support of students, families and staff include increased mental health supports and consistent consequences for student misbehavior. Considerable attention also was given to the possible return of school resource officers (SROs) — a proposal that could face long odds after police were removed three years ago.

One parent said that bringing back qualified, vetted SROs could be a way to humanize officers and build relationships. But another said: "I appreciate the lack of police presence at the school, and the controlled entrances. It's safe without feeling militarized."

School principals advocated for the return of SROs — an idea that had the support of a large percentage of students overall. However, American Indian and white students were less likely than those identifying with other racial groups to endorse such a move.

Board Member Chauntyll Allen said she would have liked to see a greater emphasis in the surveys on the use of restorative justice to resolve conflicts, adding it seemed a popular idea among people who attended a community conversation on the North End.

Nearly a decade ago, staff frustrations over a perceived failure to discipline disruptive students flared in the district's transition from junior highs to middle schools. This year, "consistent consequences" was among the top three safety improvements suggested by students and families, and "stricter punishment" topped the list among staff members.

Discipline down, but more weapons

Disciplinary numbers obtained by the Star Tribune in a data practices request showed that the number of events resulting in students being disciplined in St. Paul during the first quarter of the school year dipped from 83 in 2021-22 to 81 in 2022-23. That compares with 176 events in the first quarter of 2015-16, when safety concerns were at a previous high.

Incidents involving dangerous weapons have risen, however, with 13 events resulting in discipline in the first quarter of this year, compared with five in 2021-22. Como Park Senior High School reported six such incidents during the first quarter of each of the past two years.

About one-third of district students and staff members participated in their respective surveys, and for those in the high schools, students and employees cited weapons as their top safety concern, followed by student-on-student violence.

Generally, 85% of high school students said they perceived schools to be safe or very safe. But 31% of the students felt unsafe or very unsafe in traditionally styled restrooms, and about 23% responded the same about being in the hallways of their schools.

Twelve percent reported being a victim of physical violence while at school.

Nearly 80% of high school staff members said they had witnessed or experienced physical violence. A majority said they did not feel equipped to deal with the situation. Nor did they feel supported by building administrators.

In addition to the digital hall-pass system, the district will consider adding more school bus routes in response to student concerns about taking Metro Transit, especially after school, and has created "calming rooms" at 30 schools for students and at eight for staff members who need a quiet space to decompress.

Bathrooms and hallways now are expected to get greater attention, Gothard said. So, too, is communication around the "Send A Tip" feature on the MySPPS app, which allows users to send anonymous tips about unsafe behaviors at schools.