Articles in the Crisis Management category

School security changed in the wake of Sandy Hook

How will school security change in the wake of the Newtown school shootings? It may be too early to know the long-term effects of the tragedy on schools, but in the short-term, at least, conversations about school safety have intensified in its aftermath.

Patrice McCarthy, deputy executive director and general counsel of Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, spoke to school board association leaders at NSBA’s Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C., Saturday afternoon on how her state association responded after the Newtown shootings.

McCarthy was joined by Francisco M. Negrón Jr, NSBA’s general counsel, and Jay Worona, general counsel and director of legal and policy services of the New York State School Boards Association.

Negrón pointed out that since the 1999 Columbine shootings, most school security has focused on indentifying disenfranchised students who could potentially become violent. However, after Sandy Hook, school boards and other education leaders are now looking at how to deal with threats from outside the school.

“We need to be aware of both,” said Negrón, “and assess both threat levels.”

School boards need to make sure district safety plans are up to date. Negrón recommended that such plans be reviewed, if not yearly, then at least every two years. “Safety plans must be real and dynamic,” he said. “Don’t put them on the shelf. Review them on a regular basis to make sure they meet your needs.”

Boards also should take the pulse of their community before taking measures such as hiring armed guards for schools. When you don’t talk to people, said Worona, the presumption is that you haven’t done anything. “We need to make sure people understand we can’t make our schools safe to the point that nothing will ever happen, but we do need to make them as safe as possible,” he said.

School board associations and individual school boards should know that national support is available to help after tragedies, said McCarthy. CABE received hundreds of telephone calls and offers of support within hours of the Sandy Hook news breaking, including from NSBA.

NSBA has a list of resources on school security, including articles from American School Board Journal, available here.

Kathleen Vail|January 26th, 2013|Categories: Council of School Attorneys, Crisis Management, Leadership Conference 2013, School Law, School Security, State School Boards Associations|Tags: , , , , , , , |

NSBA works with White House on school safety issues

President Barack Obama issued 23 executive actions today that he says will strengthen school safety and prevent gun violence. He also called on Congress to pass tougher gun-control measures, including banning some assault rifles and magazines and requiring  background checks for purchasing all guns, one month and two days after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Conn.

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) was represented by Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel at the White House event. Obama announced a campaign entitled “Now is the Time” that outlines his plans for preventing gun violence.

The executive actions pertaining to school safety include:

  • Provide incentives for schools to hire school resource officers;
  • Develop model emergency response plans for schools, houses of worship, and institutions of higher education;
  • Provide law enforcement, first responders, and school officials with proper training for active shooter situations;
  • Launch a national conversation on mental health with Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

The orders and proposals were “based on an emerging consensus from all the groups we heard,” said Vice President Joe Biden. At the request of the president, Vice President Biden oversaw a task force designed to field recommendations from key stakeholder groups to curb gun violence in the United States. The White House has emphasized that local school leaders would be able to choose the safety measures for their schools as they see fit.

“We commend President Obama for his efforts to ensure that all schools are safe places,” Gentzel said. “We look forward to working with the administration and Congress in a collaborative effort to address this important issue.”

NSBA called for the expansion of school safety zones and more school resource officers during a Jan. 9 White House meeting with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Attorney General Eric Holder, and White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, who fielded recommendations from about a dozen major education groups as part of the vice president’s task force.

NSBA’s Director of Federal Legislation Deborah Rigsby participated in that session and also recommended greater access to mental health services and resources for greater coordination between law enforcement agencies and school districts.

Other organizations represented at the event included the American Association of School Administrators, National PTA, National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, School Social Work Association of America, Council of Chief State School Officers, Mothers in Charge, National Association of Elementary School Principals, National Association of Secondary School Principals, Council for Exceptional Children, and Council of Great City Schools.

Some of the groups discussed ideas such as creating a federal interagency council on school safety, and training development and support for school principals on preparation and preparedness.

NSBA and some other groups did not take a specific position on gun control, but others expressed opposition to arming teachers with guns, Rigsby said.

Joetta Sack-Min|January 16th, 2013|Categories: Bullying, Crisis Management, Educational Finance, Educational Legislation, Federal Advocacy, Federal Programs, Governance, Legislative advocacy, Policy Formation, School Climate, School Security, Uncategorized|Tags: , , , , , , |

NSBA General Counsel discusses school safety policies for Education Week

The  National School Boards Association’s General Counsel praised the response of school officials in the Newtown, Conn., school shootings last month and gives advice for other school districts in a commentary for Education Week.

Francisco M. Negrón Jr. noted that the Newtown school district had a sound policy in place, and more lives could have been lost had it not been for the quick thinking of the school principal and other staff, some of whom were killed by the gunman.

“It is because of plans and training like those in Newtown that schools across the United States will continue to be the safe havens they are for the vast majority of students, in spite of the depraved acts of those determined to harm our children.  Parents and families can help by being part of the dialogue that encourages engagement among local school district leaders, local law enforcement and the community to determine the best emergency plans for their schools. Once those partnerships are in place, schools can help by regularly training school officials on the procedures.  Parents should also understand the emergency plans and should talk to their children in an age appropriate manner about following the directives of teachers and other school officials.”

The commentary was published in the Transforming Learning blog, a project of the Learning First Alliance, a coalition of 16 major education organizations.

Joetta Sack-Min|January 16th, 2013|Categories: Board governance, Bullying, Crisis Management, School Security|

Kentucky district reassesses role of resource officers after Conn. shootings

Boone County Schools in Kentucky, home of National School Boards Association President C. Ed Massey, was featured in a Bloomberg story last week on the timely issue of arming school officials.

The National Rifle Association spurred a controversy on December 21 when it called for armed security guards in every U.S. public school in light of the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings in Connecticut.

Boone County Schools has hired nine sheriff’s deputies, armed with Glock .40-caliber pistols and tasers, to patrol its 23 schools, according to Bloomberg. The school board determined the policy after a 17-year-old high school junior killed his parents and two sisters, then held a class hostage at his high school.

While the focus has been on preventing violence at the middle and high schools, Superintendent Randy Poe told Bloomberg that the district is considering shifting some of its officers’ time to elementary schools. “It’s a new day,” Poe said. “You have to think differently here.”

Boone County was also featured in a Dec. 23 story by the New York Post on the school safety.

 

 

Joetta Sack-Min|December 27th, 2012|Categories: Board governance, Budgeting, Bullying, Crisis Management, Governance, High Schools, School Security|Tags: , , |

Schools safer in the wake of Columbine shootings and 9/11, say educators and security experts

Ronald D. Stephens has worked in school security for nearly 28 years. As executive director of the National School Safety Center in California, he’s consulted with school officials in places linked forever with school shootings — places like Red Lake, Minn.; Paducah, Ky., Broward County, Fla.; and Littleton, Colo.

But, in one sense, Newtown, Conn., is different, Stephens said.

“I have never seen a school shooting that has been so vicious, so heartless, so callous” as the one that killed 20 young children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Stephens said.

The majority of the victims, as much of the world now knows, were 6- and 7-year-olds. Six adults were also shot and killed at the school, including the gunman, Adam Lanza, who took his own life and that of his mother, whom he shot in their home before driving to the school.

Given the horrific nature of the crime, the next point Stephens made might be hard for the public to grasp: Children are safer in school than outside of it. About 100 times safer, if you do the math — and Stephens has.

Since the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999, districts have done many things to make schools safer. They’ve installed security systems and initiated better screening of visitors. Many have hired school resource officer. And they’ve adopted school safety plans, which anticipate threats and specify what adults and children will do in the event of everything from earthquakes, floods, and hurricanes, to a gunman on campus.

“After Columbine, there was a lot more emphasis placed on safe school plans,” said Eric Sparks, assistant director of the American School Counselor Association.

No longer simply a vague plan “sitting on a shelf,” the safe schools plan became a working document that addressed specific threats, including the threat of violence. Schools also took training for students and staff more seriously. They had lockdown drills and practiced the routines they would need to follow in case of emergency.

It’s perhaps hard to imagine anything worse than what happened at Sandy Hook. Yet without the kind of training staff members received — and the extraordinary degree of courage and composure they displayed — the Dec. 14 shootings might have claimed even more lives.

“As horrific as the tragedy was in Newtown, it could have been much worse had the teachers, the staff, the principal, the administrators not followed the lockdown procedures they had been trained to follow, had they not actually taken the children and secluded them, really depriving the killer of further targets,” NSBA General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón said on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal. “So it was their training to basically ferret out the children — keeping them safe, keeping them calm — that made this a less horrific tragedy than it could have been, in terms of numbers.”

In the days after the shooting, Negrón also spoke on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” where he said that the recent shooting by an external gunman represented “a turning point” in the discussion of school safety. He said this should elicit discussions between district officials and law enforcement about how to deal with a shooter from outside the school community. In the wake of Columbine and other school shootings, schools focused on internal issues, such as school climate and bullying, and on identifying students with mental problems. This kind of effort, while essential, does not address a threat posed from outside.

Negrón told C-SPAN that moves to arm teachers and administrators, which have been suggested by Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell and others, are not the answer because school staff members are not routinely trained in law enforcement.

“Teachers and administrators are hired to teach our children,” Negrón said. “That’s a very different skill set [from law enforcement].”

Sparks, of the American School Counselor Association, agreed.

“Having school staff with guns — that would be a challenging situation in terms of training and school safety,” Sparks said. “And it takes a whole different angle on the possibility of things going wrong.”

That could include gun accidents and other unintended consequences of adding firepower to some 120,000 places across the country that were designed for learning – what Stephens likened to creating “120,000 Fort Knoxes.” Is that the kind of climate we want for our children? he asked.

And even these actions would not ensure protection from a heavily armed intruder, unconcerned for his own life and bent on mass murder, Stephens said.

“I don’t know of a school district in America that is prepared to deal with assault-style attacks on their campuses.”

Lawrence Hardy|December 21st, 2012|Categories: American School Board Journal, Crisis Management, School Buildings, School Climate, School Security|Tags: , , , , , , , , |

State school boards associations offer support and resources after Newtown school shootings

When word arrived that a number of students and adults had been gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the staff at the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE) recognized the need to offer immediate support to that town’s school board.

So, by the next morning, a crisis communications expert on contract with CABE was in Newtown to help school leaders with the media frenzy that descended on the school system—and to help provide whatever comfort and reassurances the district could provide to a shocked and distraught community.

“She was with the superintendent through most of Saturday [the day after the shooting],” says CABE Executive Director Robert J. Rader. “We also reached out to the school district that was going to take in some of those kids from Sandy Hook,” which was closed immediately after the shootings.

Meeting the needs of school boards was clearly on the minds of state school boards associations across the nation in the aftermath of the Dec. 14 shootings, the deadliest mass killing at a K-12 public school since a 1927 bombing in Bath, Mich. At Sandy Hook, 20 children—ages 6 and 7—and six adults died at the hands of a 20-year-old armed with an assault rifle and two handguns.

None was as proactive in the hours after the tragic shootings, however, than CABE, whose headquarters is only 50 miles from Sandy Hook.

In addition to offering its services to the Newtown school board, CABE rushed to post a “Dealing with Tragedy” webpage that listed resources for school boards seeking guidance on how to talk to students and parents about the shootings, as well as tips for dealing with the media and reviewing school safety measures. The new webpage was posted by Sunday evening, about 48 hours after association officials first learned of the shootings.

“We wanted people to have this information before school started on Monday,” Rader says.

In days following the shootings, many state associations found the most immediate need of local school leaders was to reassure the public that their community schools were safe—and that sound security practices were in place in each school.

Mirroring the quick response of CABE, the Kentucky School Boards Association (KSBA) quickly posted a new webpage with a list of more than 50 online resources that school boards could access to help them with school safety issues and to respond to student, staff, and parent concerns about the shootings.

“We sent [a notice of the list] to every superintendent, every school board member, every school communications person that we had emails for in the state,” says Brad Hughes, director of member support services director for KSBA.

KSBA also provided regular reports on its online news service about media coverage of the shootings and how Kentucky school boards were responding to the incident. The goal, Hughes said, was to allow school officials to learn more about how their peers statewide were handling media attention and public concerns.

In Colorado, where school safety has been on the minds of school officials since the tragic 1999 shootings at Columbine High School, school boards are well versed in school safety issues and haven’t expressed much concern about reviewing their school safety plans, says Kristine Woolley, director of communications for the Colorado Association of School Boards (CASB).

The most immediate concern among school leaders was to reassure the public about the safety of their schools, she says. Much of the communications among local school districts has taken place on a private list serve of school public relations directors.

“They are the ones who are information-sharing,” she says. “It’s a pretty active group. They’ve been talking: ‘I’ve got this issue in my district,’ and everybody jumps on board with ‘This is what we did in the past’ and ‘Here’s as sample of what we did’ or ‘Here’s how we responded.’”

The Missouri School Boards Association (MSBA) and the Missouri Department of Public Safety established the Missouri Center for Education Safety a few years ago. This partnership provides school safety expertise and resources to Missouri school districts. It is headed up by Paul Fennewald, the former director of the Missouri Office of Homeland Security. Brent Ghan, chief communications officer for MSBA interviewed Fennewald this week. The interview is posted on the MSBA website and on YouTube.

The Massachusetts Association of School Committees also has made available information about school safety issues, says Michael Gilbert, a MASC field director who consults with school boards. He says much of the conversation he’s heard among school leaders has centered on what steps schools already have taken to improve school safety—and the need to communicate that to the public.

One reason the state’s school officials are more confident in speaking to the public was that a new state mandate required an update of school security measures to include a first-response plan involving police, fire, and medical agencies, he says.

“Following Columbine, I watched the overreaction of many of our school boards to the immediacy of some of the information that came from that tragedy,” he says. For example, after some media accounts reported the shooters had worn trench coats, some school boards started banning these coats from schools.

“I’m not seeing that type of overreaction today,” Gilbert says. “I think our members are being much more thoughtful.”

In Pennsylvania, most school boards appear to have matters well in hand, says Steve Robinson, director of public relations for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA). “Many school districts have been proactive in contacting parents in some way, whether through automated calling systems or postings on their websites—just to remind parents of what procedures exist, to alleviate the fears that parents have, to remind them that their schools are safe.”

The similar experience is reported by the New York State School Boards Association, where Deputy Director of Communications Barbara Bradley says there hasn’t been an “uptick in calls” since the shootings.

“We saw that school districts were being proactive in getting messages out to their communities—that they were reviewing their security measures and making sure everything was in place,” she says. “And they’re reassuring parents in the community that the schools were safe.”

One of the more positive responses to the Sandy Hook tragedy came a few days after the shootings when OSBA was invited by state Attorney General Mike DeWine to participate in a new state initiative to review school safety.

“It’s encouraging that the Ohio Attorney General’s Office reached out to us and wants to include us in the conversation,” says OSBA Executive Director Richard Lewis.

As it happens, OSBA has developed a new school safety consulting program, led by the former head of the National Association of School Resource Officers. It’s a program that Lewis says was garnering interest from school boards even before the Sandy Hook tragedy.

“I suspect this is going to create so many conversations,” he says. “So many people are going to be looking for answers and solutions.”

One issue that OSBA hopes will be part of the conversation is the need to expand mental health services—for both students and community members, Lewis says. “We think that a key to school safety isn’t so much about coming up with more plans for school lockdowns and evacuations … but rather to spend some time on prevention.”

That thinking already is a part of the conversation in Connecticut, Rader says. CABE has met with a number of education associations and business community representatives to talk about their position on issues that might arise in the next state legislative session. One of those issues is likely to be the access and funding available for mental health services.

“We have a list serve of our school board chairs, and they’ve been discussing these issues and what they want to do in their own districts.”

State association officials say the repercussions of Sandy Hook will not be fully clear for some time. But many report a gratifying sense of camaraderie and mutual support among school boards across the nation. OSBA, for example, shared a message with CABE and the Newtown school board that an Ohio school board member—whose district also had endured a school shooting—was passing along her email and telephone number if she could help.

“It speaks volumes about the compassion that school board members have for one another,” Lewis says.

Del Stover|December 20th, 2012|Categories: American School Board Journal, Crisis Management, School Security, State School Boards Associations|Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

School security articles available at American School Board Journal

In her 2006 article, “A Measured Approach,” which was written after several school shootings by individuals with no connection to the schools, American School Board Journal editor Naomi Dillon wrote: “From fostering a positive and inviting school climate, to teaching and modeling good behavior, to encouraging students and staff to be the eyes and ears of the building, schools can do a lot to make themselves unsuitable targets for unstable individuals.”

The horrific events in Newtown, Conn., have most of us looking for answers again. As school leaders, you are searching anew for information on security – disaster planning, safeguards, and the kind of prevention described in Dillon’s article. ASBJ can help provide that information for you: The magazine has published many articles on school safety for school leaders over the years. Usually only open to subscribers or available for purchase, the articles will be open to the public at our topical archive, Safe From Harm.

At the top of the list of articles is a look back at the Columbine shootings – interviews with the principal, counselor, superintendent, communications official, and others who experienced the events on that day in 1999.

Other articles include: “Communicating During a Crisis,” by school safety expert Ken Trump, who gives tips on how make sure your schools have well-developed and exercised safety and crisis plans and your staff is trained to implement them.

In “Safe From Harm,” ASBJ law columnist Ed Darden notes that a get-tough stance is tempting, but compassion and conversations are just as important.

Dillon writes of the importance of disaster planning in “Do You Have a Disaster Plan?”

Many other articles are available for reading and for download.  Please give us your feedback on what other kinds of security articles you’d find most useful.

 

 

Kathleen Vail|December 17th, 2012|Categories: American School Board Journal, Crisis Management, School Buildings, School Climate, School Law, School Security|Tags: , , , , , |

NSBA to Court: School officials must be given flexibility in handling student harassment

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is urging the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit to rule that school districts should not be held financially liable for harassment related to a student’s disability if school officials took appropriate steps to stop it.

NSBA, along with the Georgia School Boards Association (GSBA), the Alabama School Boards Association, and the Georgia School Superintendents Association, has filed an amicus brief in Long v. Murray County School District asking the court to uphold the standard set forth in the U.S. Supreme Court case Davis v. Monroe when determining whether school officials are liable under federal civil rights laws for peer harassment. The Davis precedent allows victims to collect monetary compensation when school officials are deliberately indifferent to known harassment based on a protected category that is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive harassment that it denies the victim access to the educational program.

“It is important that the court recognize that local school officials, who work closely with students and parents on a regular basis, are knowledgeable about community resources, and understand their students’ educational and emotional needs, know best how to prevent and respond to harassment in their own schools,” said NSBA’s General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón Jr.

The parents’ legal arguments rely on informal guidance given by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) through a October 2010 “Dear Colleague” letter that stated school district officials could be held responsible for claims of unreported harassment. In a December 2010 response to that letter, NSBA warned that the guidance overstepped the Supreme Court standard set by Davis and that it vastly expanded the definition of discrimination and harassment, circumventing precedent established by the courts. In a March 2011 letter to NSBA, OCR officials dismissed concerns that the guidance would lead to numerous and costly lawsuits against school districts; however, this case has proven otherwise.

“The federal government wants a one-size fits-all approach, but such a rule would require school districts to implement strategy after strategy even when the misconduct was isolated or minimal,” said Negrón. “The federal government’s approach creates an illusion of safety that would subject thousands of school districts to costly and unnecessary lawsuits diverting vital resources away from the classroom.”

Among other claims, the case will determine whether the Murray County school district in Georgia should be held liable under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act for money damages as a result of the suicide of a student with Asperger’s Syndrome. After the student reported incidents of peer bullying during his freshman and sophomore years, school officials responded effectively to all known occurrences at school. The student committed suicide at home during his junior year.

A date for oral argument date in the case has not been set yet. Phil Hartley and Martha Pearson, members of NSBA’s Council of School Attorneys, and partners in Harben, Hartley & Hawkins, LLP, are representing the Murray County school district. Hartley also serves as General Counsel for the Georgia School Boards Association.

Joetta Sack-Min|November 30th, 2012|Categories: Bullying, Council of School Attorneys, Crisis Management, Discipline, Policy Formation, School Law, School Security|Tags: , , |

NSBA’s 2013 Annual Conference to feature Geena Davis, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Diane Ravitch

Registration and housing for the National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) 73rd Annual Conference, to be held April 13 to 15 in San Diego, is now open. Join more than 5,000 school board members and administrators for an event with hundreds of sessions, workshops, and exhibits that will help your school district programs and help you hone your leadership and management skills.

General Session speakers include Academy Award winning speaker Geena Davis, who will be speaking about her work off-screen as founder of the non-profit Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. Davis works with film and television creators to reduce gender stereotyping and increase the number of female characters in media targeted for children 11 and under. She will explain how media plays a key role in children’s development, and how her organization is making a difference.

Television star Neil deGrasse Tyson, one of the world’s most engaging and passionate science advocates, will headline Sunday’s General Session. From PBS to NASA to Presidential Commissions, organizations have depended on Tyson’s down-to-earth approach to astrophysics. He has been a frequent guest on “The Daily Show”, “The Colbert Report”, R”eal Time with Bill Maher”, and “Jeopardy!”. Tyson hopes to reach “all the people who never knew how much they’d love learning about space and science.”

Monday’s General Session features acclaimed researcher and author Diane Ravitch, who has become one of the most passionate voices for public schools. Her most recent book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, makes the case that public education today is in peril and offers a clear prescription for improving public schools.

Learn more about the common core standards, new research on differentiated learning styles, and teaching “unteachable” children at the Focus On lecture series. Learn about new technologies for your classrooms as part of the Technology + Learning programs.

Special discounted rates are available for early registrants who sign up by Jan. 10, 2013. NSBA National Affiliate and Technology Leadership Network Districts save even more.

View the conference brochure for more details. Be sure to check the Annual Conference website for updates and more information.

 

 

Is your district prepared for a natural disaster?

Hurricane Isaac left floods and power outages across the Gulf Coast this week, but officials at the National School Boards Association (NSBA) say damage to schools remains minimal.

“We’ve reached out to our colleagues in the states that were affected by Hurricane Isaac,” said NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant. “Although many families and schools have been affected by the torrential rains and wind, at this point there have been no fatalities related to schools.”

Public school buildings are often used as safe havens during storms and other disasters, and schools canceled classes and activities in many parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Alabama this week.

American School Board Journal has a compilation of stories with advice on handling natural disasters in its topical archives.

Joetta Sack-Min|August 31st, 2012|Categories: American School Board Journal, Crisis Management, Environmental Issues|Tags: , , |
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