10/07/2019 | Justin Reilly
Last year was the deadliest on record for school shootings — at least 83 died or were injured in active-shooter incidents, according to USA Today. Since Columbine, at least 228,000 students have been exposed to gun violence at school.
Last year, Impero commended the state of Texas on moving forward with the passage of several bills into law that target comprehensive school safety reform. These bills put measures in place — from school hardening to emotional behavioral support services — to prioritize student safety this September. Over the summer, districts and schools trained personnel in preparation of how to handle an array of incidents affecting safety at school, including course materials on gang awareness, child exploitation and suicide prevention.
Texas isn’t the only state though that is making changes towards safety at school this year. The Philadelphia school district has brought on 650 new teachers and counselors to enhance student safety outreach. These new members of staff are undergoing additional training in the aftermath of the tragedies in El Paso, TX and Dayton, Ohio. One of the topics for these new team members is trauma-informed care which recognizes that everyone will suffer from trauma at some point in their lives, where their past experiences inform their current behavior. Trauma-informed care along with mental health awareness and social emotional learning is giving schools the tools they need to make interventions and offer services where a student’s needs previously were more difficult to identify.
In Florida, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety commission, which was created after a mass shooting at the Parkland, Florida high school — one of the deadliest acts of targeted school violence in U.S. history — is reviewing schools that are not complying with new school safety laws. Florida schools are now required to have armed school resource officers on every school campus, and routine active shooter drills, with districts additionally investing in new security systems and secure entryways to increase safety at school. These new student safety laws reflect the state’s review of what can be done to improve educational facilities.
On the West Coast in Oregon, similar student safety policies are being put into effect. The presence of school resource offers, additional security cameras, and advanced alert systems are all contributing to a safer environment for children to focus on their education. Talking about situational awareness and the implementation of a threat assessment team elevates knowledge among students and staff to look for indicators that might precede a threat to everyone’s safety at school.
5. North Carolina
In the south, the North Carolina General Assembly approved a slate of school safety enhancements last year in response to the Parkland shooting. This included legislation making it a felony to make a threat of mass violence on a school or religious property and a law establishing new mental health protocols, according to the North Carolina Association of School Administrators. The law budgeted $35 million for safety initiatives including safety grants for individual schools and funding for school resource officers, mental health crisis support and training. Mental health is an incredibly important issue when it comes to school safety and we are seeing more and more school districts across the country making this a priority.
This year Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp allocated $69 million in school security grants to public schools. He rejected a more sweeping school safety bill due to concerns about it undermining local control. Schools are able to allocate the school security grants to address the needs that are most pressing to them — whether it is through physical building upgrades, staffing changes or technology.
School safety legislation also made it to the governor’s desk in Virginia this year. Five new laws went into effect this summer addressing building security enhancements, building plans, school safety procedures and training, and how school counselors spend their time. It requires counselors to spend 80 percent of their time directly counseling students. Adding legislation regarding school counselors is significant because they play a critical role in helping to identify potential concerns about students. They are in a position to provide intervention early before concerns get out of hand, so adding more time for direct counseling can support them in this work.
Whether districts are making physical upgrades to buildings, using monitoring technology to detect concerns or adding staff such as school counselors and school resource officers, it is important to be proactive about keeping students safe. Building improvements can provide physical protection. Programs that help school staff identify issues such as mental health needs or incidents of bullying among students can help schools address potential problems before they turn tragic.