Back to the Future: School Safety at a Pre-Columbine Climate?

Posted by on September 13, 2010

School safety budget cuts, educators distracted with academic reform, and skewed school safety policy and funding are creating a “deja vu” feeling for some school safety specialists who were around prior to the 1999 Columbine High School attack.

As I recall, the focus on school safety in the months and years before the shootings in Pearl (Mississippi), Jonesboro (Arkansas), and at Columbine (Jefferson County, CO) was on traditional discipline, prevention, and climate strategies.  Very little was in the forefront of discussions or funding for security, emergency preparedness, early warning signs of violent behavior, comprehensive and balanced school safety planning, and other violence-oriented conversations. School safety budgets were, in general, at the minimum point where schools could get by to say they were doing something, but certainly not all that needed to be done.

Fast forward to 2010 and we have a very similar climate: School safety budgets dramatically cut, a tunnel-vision focus on boosting test score numbers in many schools, and a skewed national conversation (as well as proposed federal policy and funding) on one area of school safety (bullying). School administrators do not want to, or cannot, leave their buildings to even attend free school safety training in some school-communities.  We have even seen school districts that have received substantial school safety grants struggle to put together workshops, tabletop exercises, and other programs for which they received thousands of grant dollars.

As this weekend marked the 9th anniversary of 9/11, many experts in public safety have suggested that a pre-9/11 mindset exists in our broader society. It is human nature in our country for people to have short memories.  Sadly, this even applies to tragedies like 9/11 and Columbine.

It is time to wake back up, America.  The economy, our national defense role in other nations, and numerous other pressing issues exist alongside of terrorism.  And school safety is certainly not the only agenda item in education, but it sure as heck is one very important one.

Let’s not forget the lessons of the past, especially the not-so-distant past. The wake-up calls get louder and more hurtful each time they come around.

Will we wake-up or will we continue to hit the snooze button and go back to sleep?

Ken Trump

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