Lawyers, media talk school safety even when educators don’t

Posted by on April 2, 2012

School officials may be talking less about school safety today, but lawyers and the media certainly are not silent on the topic.

Many school security directors, school police chiefs and school safety consultants will tell you (at least privately) that getting school boards, administrators and staff to consistently focus proactively on school safety is increasingly challenging. This problem has intensified in recent years with cutbacks in school safety funding and pressures on school officials to deal with other hot issues like improving test scores, education funding cuts and education reform.

But while prevention and preparedness efforts seem to be stalled or declining in many schools, lawsuits against schools for incidents involving school safety and security issues appear to be increasing. Educators may not be talking about school safety, but lawyers sure are forcing the conversations.

Last week in Los Angeles, the mother and sister of a 17-year-old female high school student who was stabbed to death on September 30, 2011, sued the Los Angeles Unified School District claiming wrongful death, neglience and infliction of emotional distress, according to news reports. This lawsuit is one of a number popping up across the country as parents, students and others take legal action against schools for incidents involving deaths, assaults, sexual offenses, bullying and other school safety issues.

Legal action, as well as high-profile incidents and emotional issues around safety, also tend to generate increased media attention to school safety. Ironically, being less proactive on school safety and “doing school safety on the cheap” as one superintendent recently described his board’s position, can lead to the two things school leaders so desperately want to avoid: lawsuits and adverse media attention.

Of course, filing a lawsuit and winning it are two different things. In many cases, schools may not be found guilty in court, but may lose in the court of public opinion and community perception of the school district and its leaders.

Are your school leaders talking and acting proactively on school safety?

Ken Trump

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