Advocates, activists, experts, and opportunists: Do you know the differences among those giving school safety advice?

Posted by on July 10, 2018

“I don’t know what to believe and who to listen to,” one principal told us several months ago.

As school safety issues remain in the forefront of school-community conversations following recent school shootings, the number of voices, viewpoints, and vendors continue to grow. School safety has been politically-hijacked by both gun control and gun rights advocates. Security hardware and product vendors increasingly exploit raw emotions and political calls for the “target hardening” of schools. Victims of school shootings form non-profits and advocacy groups to push for what they see as the solution to the threats to school safety.

While all voices deserve to be heard, not all recommendations for improving school safety being put forth by well-intended people are aligned with research and best practices. School leaders, safety officials, and public policymakers should distinguish the perspectives and qualifications of those recommending school safety measures:

  1. Advocates– An advocate refers to a person who publicly supports or recommends a policy or cause. We see a growing number of school safety advocates arising from single-incident, high-profile incidents of school violence, in particular school shootings. These often include parents and family members of school shooting victims, as well as some educators whose schools experienced a school shooting.
  2. Activists– Activists typically campaign for a political or social change. They often speak, lobby, campaign, or demonstrate for changes in laws or social practices. An example of activists associated with school safety include those seeking changes to gun laws.
  3. Experts– An expert is a person with comprehensive and authoritative knowledge and/or skill in a specific topic. Their expertise is based upon factors including their education, specialized training, and experience in the particular area.  Education, training, and experience are also the criteria used to qualify an expert witness in state and federal courts.
  4. Opportunists – Following high-profile school shootings, we see an onslaught of vendors (security hardware, product, technology, etc.), overnight experts, and others who seize upon the emotions and perceived flow of money to promote their products, services, and in some cases themselves for consulting jobs or other employment. While there are many hardware, product, and technology vendors who provide services to PreK-12 schools, they and their products/services need to be fully vetted to sift out the opportunists from the qualified and competent vendors with PreK-12 school experience and product/service applicability.

All voices deserve to be heard. It is important to remember that some voices, in particular many advocates and activists, come with single-incident experiences and/or single-issue perspectives. When considering school safety, security, and emergency preparedness, educators and policymakers need to think “comprehensively” and “balanced,” not narrowly, in their approaches. “Single-incident experts” know and can storytell their unique incident experience and advocate for school safety, and their voices play a role. Single-incident expertise, however, does not automatically translate into the education, training, and experience needed to analyze specific school and school district safety, security, and emergency preparedness needs.

School safety issues are complex and cannot be “solved” with one quick fix or a single narrow approach. Each school district and each school are unique. Their needs should be analyzed and addressed consistent with research-based approaches, best practices, and analysis driven by expertise (education, specialized training, and experience) in school safety.

Ken Trump

National School Safety and Security Services

Experts You Can Trust! 

Visit School Security Blog at: www.schoolsecurity.org/blog

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*Last updated November, 2022

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