|December 19, 2012
||Volume 12, Issue #13
Connecticut Association of Boards of Education
Vincent A. Mustaro, Senior Staff Associate for Policy Service
Policy Lessons Learned from Newtown Tragedy: All of us, since the senseless and tragic killings which occurred a week ago, have had to deal with unprecedented shock and horror over the crime. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stated, “School shootings are always incomprehensible and horrific tragedies.” Truly, the entire state, nation and the global community have reached out to Newtown in an outpouring of condolences and offers of help.
Violent attacks on students and teachers in our Nation’s schools are extremely rare events, but their effects frequently and understandably, have far-reaching consequences. The anxieties of parents are not assuaged by statistics showing low probabilities of serious incidents. The Newtown tragedy has made school security a priority subject of discussion at board of education meetings and of widespread public concern. However, experience from past attacks teaches us that threats of shooting incidents are as unpredictable as any other threats or hazards.
Districts throughout the state have sought resources to help those in need at this time of tragedy. Many agencies, including the State Department of Education, CABE, and the Connecticut Commission on Children, have made available, on their respective websites, valuable resources to help children and adults cope with the school shooting.
It goes without saying that the safety of the children entrusted to the education community has been and remains our number one priority. Adults and students are struggling to understand why such events as the school shootings in Colorado, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Newtown happen and, more importantly, how can they be prevented. Superintendents, principals and teachers need to provide the leadership in reassuring students, staff, and parents that schools are generally very safe places for children of all ages and need to reiterate what safety measures and student supports are in place in their respective schools.
The question has been asked as to what changes are necessary in policy to help foster a safer environment and prevent such tragedies. While there is no guarantee that a school will ever be completely safe, school safety must always be a priority. Some districts, in their mission statements, have language that speaks to learning occurring in a safe environment. Creating and maintaining safe schools is a continuous process that focuses on the development and implementation of strategies to support the safety and security of all students in the school setting and in the community. Safe and welcoming schools must be a policy focus. This commitment provides the basis for the development of plans and strategies to achieve this policy focus.
Districts should have policies and crisis response plans for each school site in the district. Such plans should be developed cooperatively with all stakeholders within the community. It is advisable to have crisis/safety teams within each school and these groups need to review their plans regularly. C.G.S. 10-220f states “Each local and regional board of education may establish a school district safety committee to increase staff and student awareness of safety and health issues and to review the adequacy of emergency response procedures at each school. Parents and high school students shall be included in the membership of such committees.” These committees are not to be confused with the school climate committees listed in the legislation pertaining to the prevention of bullying.
Schools should re-evaluate their security measures. It is essential to work with law enforcement agencies in this process. However, we need to be mindful that there does not exist a single safety measure that could be put in place that would have stopped the Newtown tragedy. Regretfully, as long as unstable people have access to weapons, better suited for combat in a war zone, these tragedies can occur in schools, workplaces, places of worship, etc.
School officials, with student safety as a priority, have concerns pertaining to access control to school campuses and buildings while struggling to maintain a balance between a user-friendly, welcoming school climate and a facility secure from dangerous intruders. The review of existing crisis and security plans must include taking reasonable steps to reduce the risk of unauthorized access.
School security expert, Kenneth Trump, President of National School Safety and Security Services, lists four key strategy areas as best practices for school security and emergency preparedness planning. They are:
Training school administrators, teachers and support staff (school resource officers, security officers, secretaries, custodians, bus drivers, etc.) on school violence prevention, school security, and school emergency planning best practices: The first and best line of defense is a well-trained, highly alert school staff and student body.
Evaluating and refining school security measures: School security is more than equipment such as metal detectors, surveillance cameras, policy and security officers and other physical, tangible measures. Such measures can play a vital security role, but they are only as good as the human element behind it.
Updating and exercising school emergency preparedness plans: Most schools have created emergency/crisis plans. However, they must not be allowed to collect dust on a shelf. They need to be reviewed to look for gaps or questionable content. Staff must be trained. Drills in exercising the plans must be done in cooperation with public safety partners. Such plans should address preparedness procedures such as lockdowns, evacuations, parent-student reunification procedures, mobilizing school transportation during the school day, emergency communication protocols with parents and the media and mobilizing mental health services. School crisis teams must be trained. School emergency plans should be updated at least annually.
Strengthening partnerships with public safety officials: School administrators and crisis team members should meet regularly with public safety partners who include the police, fire, emergency medical services, Red Cross etc. These partners should be involved in the development and updating of school emergency plans and the drills to test them.
School safety/security and crisis response plans must be school specific. There is no one-size fits all template. CABE’s models, with the detail located in administrative regulations accompanying the policy, are at best, to be considered a starting point only. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has designated the U.S. Department of Education (ED) as the lead agency for school-related security. The ED has published a guide, Practical Information on Crisis Planning: A Guide for Schools and Communities. That is intended to provide schools, districts, and communities with the critical concepts and components of good crisis planning, stimulate thinking about the crisis preparedness process and provide examples of best practices. The ED recommends that each school safety emergency plan address the four major areas of mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. Another valuable resource to consider using in the review of school security preparedness is the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Primer to Design Safe School Projects in Case of Terrorist Attacks and School Shootings. The National School Safety Center is another source to consider for information.
Policy Implications: Policies which pertain to this issue include the following:
- #5141.6 Crisis Prevention/Response
#5142 Student Safety
#6114.7 Safe Schools
#6114.1 Emergency Drills
These policies have been posted on the CABE Website in the new section “Dealing with Tragedy.” They can be found in the tab titled “Being Prepared.” We have provided existing policies and administrative regulations pertaining to safety and crisis response. The fire emergency drill policy is included because it contains the requirement for crisis and safety drills in cooperation with the local law enforcement agency. Revisions to these sample policies and regulations will be subject to what we learn from this terrible tragedy when all the facts are compiled and we learn what needs to be strengthened. Changes must be made thoughtfully so that we can maintain the climate desired in our schools to foster learning while we protect all school inhabitants.
We have seen that our schools and campuses are highly vulnerable to attacks that can produce horrific levels of casualties. Our schools lack the capability and resources necessary to prevent a hostile intruder from entering and at the same time do not have the capability to intervene before injuries or death occur. It is painful, but nonetheless true, that once an attacker has entered a targeted school with the intent of shooting someone, there is practically nothing, or very little, that can be done to avert the attack. Investigation by the U.S. Secret Service on the problem of “targeted violence” in schools concluded that the causes and modes of attack were too unpredictable to be a reliable basis for common strategies to reduce the level of threat. Key approaches to preventing a targeted shooting attack are to deny access to the shooter and if this fails, to ensure that the shooter does not have access to the entire building. Intrusion detection, access control, immediate video assessment and effective response capabilities are viewed as essential measures that can reduce the risks of targeted shooting.
The CABE community joins our state and nation in expressing our sadness and shock at the horrific events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. Our thoughts and prayers go to all affected by this needless tragedy.
Let us remember that schools are one of the safest places for our children and an important place for them to receive support and return to normalcy. Communication and collaboration among schools, parents and communities is critical to ensure that our young people view schools as safe, caring and supportive environments staffed with caring individuals.
At the close of another year, we gratefully pause to wish you a warm and happy Holiday Season. Celebrate the warmth, beauty, memories, and the joy of the season. Thank you for your friendship, good will, loyalty and for all you do to support education throughout the year. The good will of those we serve remains the foundation of our success. May the happiness and good cheer of the Holiday Season be yours throughout the New Year.
The CABE Policy Department: Pam, Terry, Elaine, Len and Vin