The politics of school safety: From “tours” of school mass shooting scenes to statehouse lobbying and your local school district, the politicization of school shootings and school safety may be the very reason progress has stalled, not advanced.

Posted by on March 24, 2024

Strategic school safety leaders must recognize and understand that school safety is a political issue. From the highest national levels to your local school community, politics has infiltrated school safety narratives, policy and funding.

Superintendents, school boards, and principals must be consciously cognizant of the increasingly political context around school shootings and school safety. Yet most are too busy with the many day-to-day aspects of running their schools to understand the depth of politics at play.

As a career observer of school safety policy, I increasingly believe the politicization of school safety may be a large reason why progress on preventing school violence in many ways has been stalled, not advanced.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD) “tours” of a mass school shooting crime scene as an illustration of how politically charged school safety can become

Three headlines reminded me this weekend of how politicized school shootings specifically, and school safety in general, have become over my three decades in the field:

Kamala Harris to tour blood-stained building where 2018 Florida school massacre happened (

Parkland victim’s dad slams VP Kamala Harris’ ‘photo op’ visit to ‘push an agenda’: ‘Slap in the face’ (

Parkland Parent Max Schachter Defends Vice President’s Visit to School Shooting Site (

Readers can view the individual stories, if you so desire, via the links above. I will not rehash their contents.

Instead, I share them as an illustration of the wide variance of perspectives, beliefs, agendas, and tension around these tours and the intertwined politics at play. Suffice to say these snippets alone may not represent the viewpoints of many others in the MSD school community who may be silent simply to stay out of the public and political fray. But these stories illustrate the political polarization that can occur at the expense of focusing on school safety research and best practices.

For background, once the MSD building was released from court control for legal proceedings, “tours” of the mass shooting school building crime scene were organized by one or more families of victims. Understandably, some victim families themselves desired to walk the site. But multiple subsequent “tours” were extended to elected politicians, government appointees, and even educators and safety officials from around the country with no direct association with the Parkland shooting.

An invitation to one of the “tours” the Parkland mass school shooting crime scene was shared with me through a professional contact last year. There was even a SignUpGenius form. Quite candidly, I was shocked to see a mass school shooting crime scene offering “tours” with SignUpGenius forms. It was a first in my three decades in the school safety profession.

“Is this really a statement of where the school safety field has come over the decades?,” I asked aloud. “How will these ‘tours’ psychologically and functionally impact current and former students, school staff, and members of the MSD school community?,” I wondered.

I struggled to understand how elected officials and safety professionals are not capable of comprehending what occurred and the magnitude of these shootings by looking at the photos, videos, and massive report evidence, rather than needing to “tour” a mass school shooting crime scene to “get it.”  Are we a society now where our leaders will only understand the magnitude of a school shooting if they personally walk through a “blood-stained” building, as the news headline read?

I also wondered about potential unintended consequences of opening up a mass school shooting crime scene for tours to politicians and people from more than two dozen states around the nation. Within days after some tours, local news stories cropped up where those who attended were featured in the story. There are even photos of individuals and small groups of people who attended “tours” that resemble photos some people who attend conferences take as a remembrance.

Finally, I wondered about the risk for political exploitation and conflict. How might these “tours” end up intentionally or unintentionally creating increased political noise, tension, polarization, and distractions from discussions that advance school safety research and best practices? The three stories about illustrate how a political focus can quickly overshadow school safety best practice conversations.

Again, is this really a statement of where the school safety field has come over the decades?

School safety research and best practices have taken a back seat to politics, lobbying, and money

Superintendents, school board members and principals increasingly tell us one common refrain: “It’s harder and harder to cut through the noise about school safety.” And the risk of frontline school people shutting down due to the noise is increasing at exponential rates.

Following a school shooting, we see policy contexts of “do something, do anything, do it now, and do it fast” creating situations ripe for political hijacking and exploitation by a variety of actors. School safety research and best practices have increasingly been drowned out by the hijacking of school shootings and school safety to advance political agendas (regardless of the political affiliation). The political exploitation of school shootings can be seen as politicians “spin” school shootings to advance their talking points while the school shooting crime scenes themselves are still being secured.

School safety policy and funding have also been increasingly hijacked by security vendors and lobbyists at the statehouse levels (learn more here). Grant funds are increasingly being made available for target hardening products and tech lobbied for by vendors, not by frontline educators and frontline school safety professionals. Education professional associations and school safety conferences are selling their souls and their conference agendas to vendors (aka: “partners”) who pay to play (Learn more here).

The most veteran of educational leaders are questioning themselves as to whether they are doing everything they can and should do. Some are grasping for straws and throwing spaghetti on the wall in hopes that “something” might work and that they will not have a school shooting. As the political “noise” gets louder, the ability of school leaders to make sound, strategic school safety decisions only becomes more difficult.

The politicization of school safety and its accompanying noise levels may very well be why progress on school safety has stalled, not advanced. It certainly isn’t the entire reason. But it sure is a major contributing factor.

The first step to cut through the noise is for superintendents, school boards, and principals to recognize the depth and intensity of politics that exists around school shootings and school safety.

Once recognized, they must then be educated consumers of school safety information and extremely critical thinkers who are laser-focused on research and best practices, while leaving the political noise behind.

Dr. Kenneth S. Trump is President of National School Safety and Security Services  National School Safety and Security Services

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