Preventing School Violence Is a Team Effort

Thomas J. Gentzel, Executive Director and CEO, National School Board Association

As the academic year begins, students and their families may find themselves concerned about the safety of their schools. After 22 school shootings in the first half of 2018 alone, their worry is reasonable.

The National School Boards Association believes that the federal government has a role to play in providing resources to promote local school safety. These include school resource officers, school counseling, emergency preparedness and response training, interagency coordination and comprehensive resource guides on available federal assistance. We also support greater, sustained federal funding that expands access to mental health resources.

When schools are actively invested in the well-being of their students, and when local experts can exchange information about potential mental health or psycho-social needs, schools and communities are more prepared to intervene before mass violence happens. Additionally, recovery plans should be developed and maintained with appropriate local, state and federal agencies.

School leaders and teachers are held accountable for the results they deliver. We should expect no less of federal policy makers, especially when the safety of our children is at stake.

If you assume that school safety will be more complex this year than ever before, I would raise my hand in agreement. There is nothing easy about ensuring the security and safety of your school community.

With the onset of the new school year, nearly every school leader and local board of education has set safety as the highest priority for all stakeholders. But there must be a systematic approach to prioritizing needs and expenditures. Proactive or reactive spending? Mental health providers or hardening the building? How do you marginalize the gap between your least secure to most secure building? Armed or unarmed security?

After taking a deep dive in safety for the past five years, I am certain that critical decisions around security must be collaborative, with every community stakeholder having the opportunity to share their insights and thoughts. Optimal safety runs parallel with optimal community leader relationships. Also, because security plans are always works in progress, they should never be considered complete.

The following must be in place for a rich safety plan:

  • School and safety officials must respect each other’s work and collaborate often.
  • The local school board must prioritize safety expenditures as a non-negotiable in the local budget.
  • The local safety plan must be understood by all.

AASA, the School Superintendents Association, has made available to every school leader a safety toolkit defning best practices. (To access the School Safety and Crisis Planning Toolkit, visit http://aasacentral.org/school-safety/.)

As we look to enhance school safety, it is my hope that every school leader will examine the toolkit and their current practice to assure their community that they are truly working to make a difference.