April 3, 2018

(WELL-BEING, GUEST BLOGS, SCHOOL HEALTH) Permanent link

Blog Tour: The Role of Education Leaders To Ensure Safe Schools, Thru a Federal Policy Lens

This post also appears in the AASA Total Child Blog, as part of their National Healthy Schools Day Blog Tour. April 3 is National Healthy Schools Day, and the advocacy team was invited to contribute a blog post talking about what a healthy school looks like, how school shootings have influenced our perceptions of what it means to be a healthy school, and how school system leaders can help the students they serve feel safe. You can access the full collection of blog entries on the Total Child Blog.

When we, as a nation, find ourselves once again responding to yet another school shooting, the urgent need to ensure that our nation’s students can be safe in their learning environments jumps to the front of everyone’s minds, when, ideally, the safety of the students should be so assumed, automatic, and natural it appears as little more than a blip on the radar.  In our department, we look at the questions provided as prompts for this blog in the same way we look at questions posed when it comes to federal education policy: Is there a role for the federal government in this discussion? What does that role look like? How can we represent the voices and priorities of public school superintendents in this discussion? How can we advance a policy that supports state and local decision making? Does the policy outcome/proposal? To that end, here is our contribution to the National Healthy Schools Day Blog Tour.

April 20 marks the 19th anniversary of the Columbine school massacre, and is also a national day of action in response to the continued national crisis of gun violence in schools. AASA is proud to partner with and support the National Day of Action to Prevent Gun Violence in Schools. Set for more than two months after the most recent school shooting, the timeline ensures at least minimal coverage and attention to the important discussion around school safety, rather than falling off the radar. AASA assembled a set of resources and information to support school system leaders, their staff, their community, and their students as they navigate yet another round of student deaths. In particular the set of ideas and activities that students and school communities can engage in—in addition to or in place of a student walk out—reflects what a healthy school looks like today: something that can and will vary by community, but with a common thread. School shootings haven’t altered our view of what it means to be a healthy school; it has clarified the intensity by which we work to make it a reality for all students. AASA’s Position Paper on School Safety outlines AASA’s policy positions on the comprehensive approach necessary to prevent future school violence. 

AASA recommends that every school district have the following safety programs and procedures: 

 

  • Every district should have policies in place requiring individual school and building safety plans, as well as district wide safety plans. These plans should serve as a guide to address the various safety needs in the school such as lockdown procedures, evacuations, drills and safety protocols, and personnel assignments. 
  • Every district should conduct regular audits to evaluate and analyze the effectiveness of their school safety and security plans. First-responders, local law enforcement and the entire school community should be engaged in this process. 
  • Every district should communicate with parents and community members about the school-level emergency preparedness protocols to the greatest extent possible. 
  • Every district should provide regular training for all school employees on the district’s school emergency management systems and protocols. 
  • Every district should work to create partnerships between schools, local law enforcement and appropriate community agencies (such as mental health) to prevent and reduce school violence.

And from the federal perspective, AASA has clear recommendations that Congress can take to support school districts in their effort to enhance school safety, as well as recommendations on gun safety legislation:

 

  • Enhance School Safety Parts of these recommendations were addressed in what Congress passed in the FY18 omnibus. We repeat them here because they are in our current position and to reiterate that they remain priorities and that Congress must maintain its investment in these services, supports and programs. 
    • Reinstate funding for the Safe and Drug Free Schools program. Schools and states annually pay billions of dollars to address the results of substance abuse, school violence and unaddressed mental health needs through local and state funding. Reinstatement of the Safe and Drug Free Schools program represents an important federal investment in successful prevention and intervention efforts. Much of this program can be found in ESSA Title IV. We applaud Congress for the funding it provided for the flexible funding bloc grant in FY18 and what it will mean for districts, in terms of providing these important wrap around supports.
    • Re-establish funding for the Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools grants designed to help schools prevent and manage emergencies. AASA was pleased to see the STOP Act included in the FY18 omnibus, a program that will allow districts to support school safety.
    • Restore funding for programs such as the Secure our Schools grant program and the COPS in Schools program, which provided grants for security equipment, security assessments and school resource officers. 
    • Increase funding for mental health counselors and services in schools. Access to these services is a crucial component of any effort to prevent/respond to a school emergency. 
    • Ensure existing federal policy gives local school districts the flexibility to use resources to fund student services personnel (including counselors, psychologists and therapists). Wrap-around services are central to addressing the needs of the total child, and flexibility in existing federal policy will better enable local school districts to use limited federal dollars in a way to maximize student support. 
    • Provide funds for districts to upgrade their facilities if internal safety audits require improvements.
  • Gun Safety Legislation
    • Increase enforcement of existing gun laws 
    • Reinstate the ban on the sale, import, transfer and ownership of assault weapons 
    • Ban large-capacity magazines 
    • Require thorough background checks for all gun purchasers 
    • End the “gun-show” loophole 
    • Prevent individuals convicted of violent crimes from being able to purchase guns 
    • Prevent individuals with mental health issues from purchasing or owning a gun (18 U.S.C. 922 (g)) 
    • Punish irresponsible gun owners

AASA hopes that school leaders find ways of enhancing their current school safety procedures, and applauds the recent federal fiscal year 2018 appropriations bill, which included several measures that directly support the provisions outlined above. You can read AASA’s full analysis of the education implications for the FY18 bill. 

 

  • Funds ESSA Title IV at $1.1 billion dollars, a $700 million increase, a meaningful payment towards a flexible funding block grant that will help boost school safety and mental health resources. As described in a Congressional fact sheet, the money is intended “to expand school-based mental health services and supports; for bullying prevention; and for professional development for personnel in crisis management and school-based violence prevention strategies”
  • Clarifies that funding thru the Center for Disease Control (CDC) can be used for gun-related research. This is a win: a provision called the ‘Dickey Amendment’ had long existed and been interpreted to mean that such funds couldn’t be sued for this research, resulting in a dearth of research and information related to guns, gun violence, and other such information.
  • The bill includes language that prohibits the use of federal funds to arm teachers or provide firearm training to teachers.
  • Includes the Fix NICS Act, which would ensure federal and state authorities accurately report relevant criminal history records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
  • Authorizes and funds the STOP School Violence Act, legislation that would invest in early intervention and prevention programs to stop school violence before it happens by authorizing the Department of Justice to make grants to states for purposes of training students, school personnel, and law enforcement to identify signs of violence and intervene to prevent people from harming themselves or others. The program is authorized at $75 million.

If we hope to prevent future tragedies at schools, we must comprehensively address both school safety and gun safety. Increased mental health services, community supports for youth, and new attitudes about violence in our entertainment must all be part of this approach. We must be willing to spend the time and resources necessary to make sustainable changes.