Searching for Clarity

Durham Public Schools has rules to prevent discrimination, but do these rules do enough to address individual safety in schools?

Within the DPS Parent Handbook, the word “safety” appears 39 times, but the handbook does not offer a specific definition of “safety.” It instead highlights it as it pertains to food and snacks, health and wellness, weapons, alcohol, and drugs, dress code, among others and explicitly lays out the justification for punishment for these offenses. 

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The handbook says “The safety of all students in Durham Public Schools is our first priority.”

It’s not an easy thing to define, but without a definition of safety by the district individual schools, teachers and staff, are left to make their own interpretations.

For testing coordinator Kara Robinson, a former administrative intern who worked with students every day, that means providing many different ways to meet students’ needs.

“Create a healthy culture in school and classrooms,” testing coordinator and former principal intern said. “Make sure there are clubs, activities, and support for all students and their interests. I need to make sure I express myself, as well as encourage other staff, to do the same, basically modeling for the students to express themselves,” Robinson said.

For assistant principal Craig Carlson, the meaning of safety should be malleable and should be changed based on the situation.

“As administrators, we don’t want any direct harm to our students, we want safety and protection for them [students], that’s our number one priority, and of course we want you to grow and experience all types of ideas, but while you are here we want you to be safe, that means physical safety, as well as mental and emotional safety,” Carlson said.

Two Riverside administrators providing two different definitions of safety illustrates how difficult it can be to define the word. In the coming weeks, The Pirates’ Hook will capture what students, faculty, and staff need to feel safe at school in a series of articles published at

If you are interested in sharing your own definition of safety, contact Elijah King at

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