DA op-ed: Public schools remain the safest places

But they still need resources and support to stay that way

Recent shootings on school campuses and at other public venues have renewed the discussion on what is the best way for schools to protect their students and staff. Every day, parents send their children to school, trusting that they will return home safe and sound at the end of the school day. Safety and security measures at school must always be discussed, addressed and acted upon in a comprehensive fashion. Community schools believe all children have the right to a safe and secure learning environment.

Safe and secure learning environments

Research suggests that learning is enhanced when students feel safe and secure in their learning environments. This includes access to healthy food, opportunities for physical activity, clean air to breathe, and nurses’ services, including emotional and mental health assistance from school counselors.

Although schools play a critical role in helping students and families feel comfortable and safe, these issues and others are matters that must be addressed by our community members working together, using a comprehensive approach to solve problems and prevent future violence. Knee-jerk reactions disguised as quick fixes to the problem should be avoided.

A recent poll found 84% of parents believe their children are safe in school. Yet outside of schools, 3,000 children and teens are killed in violent acts involving guns each year, while 15,000 are injured.

How schools enhance safety

We cannot solve this problem alone. State and federal action may be necessary to provide resources to enhance school safety, and plenty can be done with common-sense gun safety legislation without changing our current understanding of the Second Amendment.
Schools remain the safest places for children, and according to AASA, the School Superintendents Association, today’s schools are considerably safer than they were 25 years ago.

Read: School safety without breaking the bank

In fact, over the past decade, the number of schools reporting an incident of violent crime fell by more than 20%.
A recent AASA poll found that 84% of parents believe their children are safe in school. Yet outside of schools, 3,000 children and teens are killed each year in violent acts involving guns, while more than 15,000 are injured.

To reinforce and enhance safety, most schools today have:

  • policies and safety plans in place that assist us in addressing the various safety needs in our schools (e.g., fire and tornado drills, intruder drills, lockdown procedures, and other measures)
  • an active safety team comprising area professionals that, among other activities, conduct safety audits to evaluate and analyze the effectiveness of school security plans
  • communication plans in place to inform parents and the community about crisis situations
  • regular training for faculty and staff as well as tabletop discussions for the district’s school emergency management team, including practicing for the many “new” FEMA shelters
  • developed, helpful partnerships with local law enforcement and appropriate community agencies (such as mental health) to assist each other during difficult times of crisis.

We do not want our schools to look or feel like armed fortresses. Even with the hiring of additional school resource officers (SROs), we realize that our schools, like others throughout the country, are large buildings.

It is unreasonable and impractical to assume that SROs can be everywhere all the time.

The time to address safety is now, but we must do so in a well-thought-out manner resulting in a comprehensive
plan of action that will weather the test of time.

Stephen Kleinsmith is the director of school and community partnership at Missouri State University and an educational consultant with Sapp Design Architects. This article originally appeared in Missouri’s Springfield News-Leader and is reprinted here by permission.

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