Residents of the Dales neighborhood met with school officials Wednesday night to continue a conversation started last month focusing on concerns over the Digital Learning Center.
The public forum was held at the Ferndale school at 427 Allen - formerly known as the Taft Education Center but which became the DLC this fall - and provided an overview of concerns expressed at the last meeting, an update on some recent changes at the school and an opportunity for residents to share additional comments.
The first meeting, held Nov. 15, was initiated by neighbors - including Ferndale City Council member Melanie Piana - who have had concerns over recent criminal activity that happened outside of the school.
Last December, a student was shot in the leg outside the school in what police called a "robbery gone bad." This past October, several students were arrested after a fight outside the school. A gang-related fight was reported the following week.
At both meetings, the residents also discussed plans for forming an organized Dales neighborhood group. Find more information on the group here.
Closed campus among new changes at school
Stephanie Hall, director of community relations for Ferndale Public Schools, went over concerns expressed at the last meeting and answered some questions that were asked at that time.
For example, residents had previously asked about how many students at the school are from Ferndale. Of the DLC's 632 full-time students, 56 are from Ferndale, Hall said.
Regarding the number of "court-ordered" students, or students on probation, Hall said the current number is 45 students (7 percent).
DLC director Renee Heard also discussed some changes at the school that were made in response to resident concerns. These include:
- As of Monday, Dec. 3, the school is a closed campus; students cannot leave for lunch.
- Students are no longer allowed to enter the school after 11 a.m.
- Students must have their student ID visible on them at all times.
- New advisory period held each morning for academic case managers to check-in with students.
- Students who leave during the school day are not permitted back into the building.
Residents express concerns
Residents expressed additional concerns for the district to look into, including how to find out if a crime in the neighborhood was related to students at the school; questions about how the school benefits the Ferndale community directly; and concerns about students who appeared to be "casing the neighborhood."
Other residents pointed out that the people these neighbors are noticing may not be students at the DLC. "I think people are making assumptions," one resident stated.
Officer Farris, the police liaison officer assigned to the DLC, shared updated crime statistics during the meeting, explaining that crime is "markedly down" in the city overall when comparing Nov. 2011 to Nov. 2012. He also responded to residents' questions about specific incidents they've noticed recently.
One resident asked for a report showing crime specifically in the Dales neighborhood, and another resident asked for a 10- to 20-year comparison of crime data surrounding the school from before and after the school opened.
The next steps
Ferndale Schools Superintendent Gary Meier thanked the residents for their participation and said he wants to keep the lines of communication open.
"We want to be as sensitive to the issues you've addressed as possible," he said, noting that the district will respond to the remaining pending questions. "We want [the school] to be safe for kids just as we want it to be safe for the community."
To help prioritize the issues discussed, residents at the meeting were given numbered stickers to place on the lists of concerns to indicate the areas they are most concerned with.
In the meantime, a "Who do I call?" list was provided to residents with phone numbers for the DLC and police desk, and neighbors were encouraged to get involved at the school by volunteering, or contacting the school for possible help from student volunteers if they know someone in the neighborhood who needs help with leaf raking or other tasks.
'A real opportunity to be empowered'
Hall said after the meeting that she was glad to see residents trust the district to listen to their concerns and said the forums have been a great way to get many people involved. "This allows for a lot more information to be collected," she said.
Councilwoman Piana said after the meeting that she was encouraged to see the school had already started taking action to make some changes based on feedback. "That is an immediate action that came out of the first meeting," she said.
She said neighbors have "a real opportunity to be empowered" with these meetings, and pointed out that the Dales neighborhood group will focus on other issues too, and offer social activities.
"It's not just all about solving problems, it's about getting to know people," Piana said. "When you know your neighbors you strengthen the overall health of the neighborhood."
Anyone who notices any suspicious activity in their neighborhood is asked to call 911 if it is an emergency or the non-emergency line of the Ferndale Police Dept. at (248) 541-3650.
You can find more information on upcoming meetings at the Dales Facebook page.