Magazine article District Administration

How Safe Is Your School? Following a Number of School Shootings, Educators and Politicians Recommend Safety Policies

Magazine article District Administration

How Safe Is Your School? Following a Number of School Shootings, Educators and Politicians Recommend Safety Policies

Article excerpt

The recent school shootings in Colorado, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania were yet another wake-up call for school administrators that violence can happen anywhere at any time and that schools must develop violence prevention and emergency plans.

Although no security plan is perfect, it can offer clear direction during a crisis when confusion and fear take over. For instance, just weeks before a student was killed on September 27 during a hostage standoff at Platte Canyon High School in Bailey, Colo., the school conducted an emergency evacuation drill as part of its safety plan. So when the shooting did occur, students and teachers didn't panic and evacuated the building in an orderly fashion, potentially avoiding further chaos and injuries.

In an effort to increase school safety, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales hosted the Conference on School Safety in October at the request of President Bush. Spellings and Gonzalez led three panel discussions with speakers including Columbine survivor Craig Scott and Delbert Elliott, director of the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence in Boulder, Colo.

No new policies were introduced. Neither were any funding changes made. Some educators believed the conference was a good starting point while others viewed it as nothing more than political rhetoric during an election season.

"Whether it's a congressman or governor or state legislator, somehow [politicians] are supposed to show action," says Paul Houston, executive director at the American Association of School Administrators in Arlington, Va. "The reality is there's not a lot they can do [besides] looking at the issue of funding."

He says federal funds for school safety have steadily declined over the past five years. According to CNN, funding was reduced from $439.2 million in 2001 to $346.5 million this year and will drop again in 2007 to $310 million.

Priorities Questioned

While school safety ranks among educators' top issues, Houston says it moves up and down their list of priorities depending upon their district's challenges and national events. Before the Columbine shootings in 1999 that left 15 people dead, he says some educators believed that violence couldn't happen at their school. Columbine single-handedly changed their perception, creating a flurry of prevention activities ranging from training staff to using metal detectors.

But school safety was knocked down a few steps after the No Child Left Behind act became law in 2002. "It has sucked the oxygen out of the system," says Houston. "There is no room left for thinking about much of anything other than test scores. There's the lack of focus on school safety that we had after Columbine. We've got to refocus people back on school safety."

Besides developing safety and emergency plans--which some schools still lack--he says educators also need to follow the ABCs of school safety:

* Awareness: All staff need to be trained on how to recognize and handle potentially dangerous situations at their school, whether it's a stranger roaming the halls or a strange truck parked in the school's lot.

* Balance: Educators need to develop a balanced perspective and approach to school safety. Overreacting by building a prison like environment in schools can create even bigger safety issues.

* Control and Connection: School administrators need to control their campuses by connecting with students through staff or school resource officers who work in collaboration with local police.

"Schools should be a place of some joy and of a sense of openness," Houston says. "Yon want kids not to feel so repressed and beaten down. So you have to have the view of there are some things you can do to marginally make them safer but is the price worth it? I'm not sure it is."

Proof in the Pudding

Since 1992, the earliest year that data is available, there have been 418 school-related deaths, according to the National School Safety Center's Report on School Associated Violent Deaths. …

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