OPS working to address safety concerns in Omaha schools

Staffers focusing on helping juvenile offenders get second chances to find their way back to class
Guns in schools are a growing concern for community members
Published: Dec. 6, 2022 at 6:01 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Omaha Public Schools is working to help students who have made big mistakes — like bringing a gun to school — find their way back to a better path forward.

Opinions vary greatly on how to achieve safety in our schools. OPS has dealt with guns found on a handful of students this year.

Schools are like large communities with varied backgrounds, and solutions aren’t always obvious.

So OPS is trying to be proactive, putting a team in place for second chances.

Last month, a senior at Omaha north appeared before a county judge after he was arrested for having a gun at school.

“He was suspected of smoking marijuana in the bathroom — got into an altercation with a teacher about it,” the prosecutor said. “He’s brought to the principal’s office and searched, and located a stolen 9mm in the front of his jeans with a round in the chamber.”

Since school started this fall, OPS confirmed that five guns have been confiscated from its high schools.

Lisa Utterback, chief officer of student and community services for OPS, said that “in those particular instances, the guns were not brought out to be used in front of anyone. they were in possession of individuals.”

But 6 News asked whether more needed to be done when it comes to making schools safer.

“What we’re seeing in our schools is a reflection of what is or isn’t happening in the community,” Utterback said. “We have to work together. When we see something, say something. Safety is everyone’s responsibility.”

Omaha Public Schools doesn’t use metal detectors but does have security.

National research is varied about the impact. While Some studies show students are less likely to carry a weapon, other studies show the presence of a metal detector may detrimentally impact student perceptions of safety.

“You look at the size of our schools — I don’t think metal detectors are the answer,” Utterback said.

OPS is Nebraska’s largest school district, serving 52,000 students.

“We want to address why they would have to have a weapon,” Utterback said. “What are we doing as a community to make sure our children feel safe? Parents have a responsibility to know what their children are doing, and if their children are in possession of a weapon, why? And get parents and children resources and support.”

When school started this fall, Jason Boyd started a new position with the district, helping students who get in trouble with the law transition back to school.

“We’re one piece of the puzzle. It’s going to take the entire community to wrap their arms around our students,” he said.

But Boyd said students who get expelled or end up at the youth center or another detention center need support beyond school walls.

“Things happen at home; things happen in student lives. They end up missing a beat,” he said. “OPS is helping them with the transition process and getting them back in school and setting them up for success.”

After all, that’s the ultimate goal.