Articles tagged with Newtown school shootings

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: , , , , , , |

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: , , , , , , , , , |

Safety experts to advise school leaders in NSBA webinar

The school shootings in Newtown, Conn., have left school leaders searching for ways to make sure they are keeping their students, staff, and communities safe from harm.

When looking for advice, it’s best to seek out people who have experience – and Shamus O’Meara and Rick Kaufman certainly fit the bill. O’Meara, a partner with the Minneapolis law firm Johnson Condon, Attorneys at Law P.A., represented and advised the Red Lake and Rocori school districts in their school shooting incidents. Kaufman was the communications director for Colorado’s Jefferson County School District during the Columbine High School shootings 13 years ago.

Both men will be featured in a free webinar for school leaders, administrators, and school attorneys: “Planning For and Managing the School Crisis You Hope Never Comes.” The webinar, sponsored by NSBA’s Office of General Counsel and the Council of School Attorneys (COSA) will be held Friday from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. EST. Register at https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/219019864.

“We hope that this webinar provides school leaders and attorneys with a solid foundation for review or development of school emergency plans and procedures,” says Sonja Trainor, director of COSA. “We are deeply thankful to Shamus O’Meara and Rick Kaufman, both national experts on school emergency planning and response, for giving their time and expertise for this webinar.”

O’Meara will discuss the importance of school safety plans as “living and breathing, not stuck in drawers,” he says. “School leaders, administrator, parents, and students — everyone involved with the school should take ownership of plan, so we are safely educating our students.”

In the decade since the Columbine High School shootings and 9/11, awareness about the need for security in public buildings, including schools, has been heightened, says O’Meara. And schools also have recognized that they are not alone in dealing with security and safety issues.

“A number of partners have to be involved, not just law enforcement,” he says. “Mental health, counseling services, and social services – they all need to be part of a dialog that is in turn part of school safety planning.”

One aspect of a good safety plan is how to communicate to parents, staff, students, and the community during and after a crisis. Kaufman, who is now director of community relations and emergency management for Minnesota’s Bloomington Public Schools, lived through the nightmare of Columbine.

The Columbine shootings changed the landscape of school security and raised questions of school climate. The biggest change that Kaufman has seen since the Colorado shootings has been the rise of social media use and the speed in which information travels. He encourages school districts to consider communications through many different ways.

“Districts must respond very quickly through different channels. If your district doesn’t use social media, you will be caught behind the eight ball in dealing with the crisis,” he says. “You can’t rely on just email or a rapid notification system.”

Through his work with the National School Public Relations Association, Kaufman helped in the development of rapid response teams of school communications professionals that are available to help districts that are dealing with a crisis.

O’Meara and Kaufman will offer strategies and resources for school leaders, and will be responding to questions during the webinar.

 

Kathleen Vail|December 19th, 2012|Categories: American School Board Journal, Announcements, Board governance, School Buildings, School Climate, School Law, School Security|Tags: |

NSBA expresses condolences on Newtown, Conn., school shooting

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) expresses its deep sympathies to those affected by the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on the morning of December 14.

“Tears are being shed in Connecticut and across the United States for the families of those killed or injured in the Newtown school shooting,” said C. Ed Massey, President of the National School Boards Association and member of Kentucky’s Boone County Board of Education. “It is a tragedy. Our hearts and our prayers go out to the students, schools staff, parents, and all of those affected.

NSBA Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel added: “Although details of this horrible tragedy are still emerging, we know that schools generally are the safest place children can be. NSBA will assist our colleagues in the Newtown Public Schools, their Board of Education, and our state association, the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, in any way that we can.”

Joetta Sack-Min|December 14th, 2012|Categories: School Security|Tags: , , , , , |
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