Statement by school security expert Kenneth S. Trump, President of National School Safety and Security Services, on the Federal Commission on School Safety’s final report:
The Federal Commission on School Safety’s final report largely rehashes school safety, security, and emergency preparedness best practices that have been recognized since the Columbine era nearly 20 years ago. A few new political twists were added, most notably the support for arming school staff and the strong call for eliminating the Obama school discipline guidelines. Some of the most interesting and accurate observations were on the report’s second page where disclaimers indicated that the problems around school safety are complex, there is no on-size-fits-all approach, and the federal government does not endorse any specific program or approach.
Many best practices in the report are those which school safety experts have been teaching for years: Have school safety and crisis teams, train school staff and law enforcement on emergency preparedness planning, have reasonable physical security and school-based policing practices, focus on mental health and behavioral intervention and prevention supports, and related measures. While reasonable physical security measures have a role in school safety, a skewed approach to “target hardening” (increasing driven by security product and hardware industry companies and their lobbyists) risks focusing on quick fixes rather than on the people, policies, procedures, and systems where allegations of school safety failures typically rest.
The report calls for a national repository for school safety best practices and advocates claim no such repository has ever existed. In fact, the National School Safety Center was first established in 1984 to serve this role but over the years lost federal funding. In more recent years, the Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) Technical Assistance Center (https://rems.ed.gov) has been funded for years by the federal Education Department to collect and disseminate best practices on school emergency planning. While well-intended, many advocates, educators, and policymakers are unaware of the history, resources, and best practices around school safety that already exist. Reinventing the wheel as if it is something brand spanking new is not going to result in the changes they desire.
While the Commission’s report largely consisted of established best practices, the Commission dropped the ball in their supporting of the arming of school staff. If schools want an armed presence on campus, they should focus on having trained, commissioned, and professional police officers fill that role. Teachers want to be armed with technology and textbooks, not guns. School-based policing and training goes far beyond a couple days of classes on shooting, holstering, and cleaning a firearm. The devil is in the details of implementation and goes far beyond the exploitation of school safety by gun control and gun rights advocates. Let teachers teach and public safety professionals provide desired professional policing and security services in schools.
On the issue of discipline, ultimately school discipline is a local issue that should be addressed by local school boards, school administrators, educators, parents, and students. The federal government lacks the expertise, staffing, and standing to overreach into local day-to-day school discipline. That said, the federal government should be reasonably staffed and equipped to vigorously investigate discriminatory treatment and enforce corrective measures where such discrimination occurs, while also actively educating school officials on anti-discriminatory practices and providing resources to help schools remedy disparate disciplinary actions against students. In short, local control of discipline and vigorous enforcement against discriminatory actions against students should both be working in tandem rather than as an “either-or” option.
In the end, information on school safety, security, and emergency preparedness best practices have long been in place. We do not need another federal report, school safety center, or Beltway Bandit technical assistance firm to produce more manuals, guides, and repositories. School leaders need to provide consistent leadership in allocating reasonable time and resources to implementing the known best practices. The state and federal government needs to provide reasonable resources to support local schools in implementing them. Most importantly, politicians and special interest groups need to stop hijacking school safety and school shootings to advance their agendas so that school leaders can focus on best practices.
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