Articles tagged with Newtown

Sandy Hook tragedy teaches lessons on school security

Thomas J. Gentzel, the Executive Director of the National School Boards Association (NSBA), reflected on the first anniversary of the Dec. 14, 2012 school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. with this statement:

“The tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary one year ago shook the nation. Our hearts go out to the families and friends who lost loved ones and to all those in Newtown who were affected on that horrific day.

“One year later, the nation continues to memorialize the 26 adults and children who were killed at the school, support their survivors, grieve, and move forward. For school board members, the urgency of making schools around the country safer and more responsive to future threats is an ongoing imperative and legacy of the Newtown shootings.

“As part of their duties, school boards must ensure that school buildings keep children and school personnel safe without becoming fortresses. In cases of natural disasters and man-made situations, school buildings – equipped with high-occupancy gymnasiums and cafeterias – are often the first shelter, serving as community safe havens and command posts. School boards recognize that even the best emergency preparedness policy is perishable, and they are monitoring and improving their districts’ policies on a routine basis.

“School districts can ensure that parents and the community have a clear and actionable understanding of emergency response plans. One example is parental notification – to clear the path for first responders and their emergency vehicles, parents are often directed to a designated area away from the school where they can safely receive real-time updates.

“Since the Sandy Hook tragedy, there has been much debate on whether armed security guards should be used to protect the nation’s schools, or whether teachers or other school staff should be armed. In cases when a community deems school security is essential, NSBA believes that only sheriff’s deputies and police officers should be hired as school resource officers. Trained to deploy their weapons in the safest way possible and to take action that minimizes collateral damage, sheriff’s deputies and police officers have ‘qualified immunity’ that affords school districts the legal protection they need in case of any unintended consequences that could arise in carrying out their duties.

“As we approach this first anniversary, NSBA joins world and national leaders, state and local governments, community leaders, and people across the country in remembering those affected by the Sandy Hook tragedy. Times like these give us great pause because they remind us not only of the fragility of life but also of the bravery and resilience shown by Newtown’s teachers and school administrators, the students and parents, and the first responders on Dec. 14, 2012. Our nation’s 90,000 school board members will honor them as we continue our efforts to educate and protect our school children and school personnel who work in America’s public schools each day.”

 

Joetta Sack-Min|December 11th, 2013|Categories: Bullying, Crisis Management, Environmental Issues, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Policy Formation, School Buildings, School Climate, School Security|Tags: , , , , , |

New on ASBJ.com: Disaster preparation and recovery

Seven schoolchildren, along with their teacher and her baby, died when a tornado ripped through their school building in Moore, Okla., in May.  This deadly storm, ferocious even by Tornado Alley standards, devastated the town and the school district.

ASBJ communications columnist Nora Carr was on the ground in Moore after the storms.  She documents the physical and emotional aftermath of the storm   in this issue’s cover story,  “Storm Recovery in Oklahoma,”  online now at ASBJ.com.

Also in the November/December issue, Senior Editor Lawrence Hardy takes a look at how school security has changed in the year since the Newtown, Conn., school shootings.

NSBA’s “advocate-in-chief”  (and ASBJ’s On the Hill columnist) Michael A. Resnick is retiring after a 44 years. Read his perspective on how times have changed in the national education arena in our interview.

While you’re on ASBJ.com, check out our bonus articles and vote in our Adviser poll.

 

 

Kathleen Vail|November 20th, 2013|Categories: American School Board Journal, Crisis Management, Legislative advocacy, NSBA Publications, School Security|Tags: , , , , |

10 best practices to avoid liability

A question that frequently arises among school members, new and seasoned is, “Can I be sued?” While there are no guarantees against a lawsuit being filed, it is important consider actions to take to limit school board exposure to potential liability.

Most states provide indemnification to school board members for actions taken within the parameters of their school board responsibilities. However, at Monday’s session at National School Boards Association’s Annual Conference, Connecticut Association of Boards of Education staff — Deputy Director and General Counsel Patrice McCarthy, Executive Director Robert Rader, and Senior Staff Attorney Kelly Moyher – offered 10 suggestions on how to limit potential for liability should a lawsuit arise.

For starters, know the boundaries of your authority. The authority of local school boards is derived from a state’s constitution, statutes, and regulations. Board bylaws and policies provide additional direction.

Next, focus on the board’s policymaking role. Boards are policymaking bodies responsible for establishing rules and procedures for running the schools. Numerous state and federal laws mandate that certain policies must be in place, but generally allow school boards to determine the specific details.

School boards should adhere to the student discipline policy. This is an important area for boards and their administrators to carefully follow established policies and regulations. Through policies, boards establish the code of conduct and sanctions for violations.

Understanding the staff discipline process also is key, while reviewing and adhering to policies on holiday celebrations is important for a board, too. Boards serve an important role in promoting community understanding on policies in both areas.

Serious consideration must be given to the laws governing board meetings. Board members only have power when they act as a body. Each state has detailed requirements for the conduct of public meetings and a periodic workshop for the board and administrative staff will help insure compliance with state law.

Avoiding nepotism, conflicts of interest and understanding the ethical considerations for board of education members is also crucial to the legal functionality of a board of education. National School Boards Association has a sample code of ethics for school board members, as do many state school board associations. Local and state laws will also govern these areas.

The board and superintendent relationship is critical for the district’s effective operation and public perception. To this end, be sure to clarify the roles of board members and the superintendent.

Conduct a thoughtful and thorough superintendent search process. Hiring a superintendent is the single board action that will most likely have the greatest long-term impact on a district. State law, statutes, and regulations provide guidance on hiring and certification requirements, as well as Freedom of Information or open meetings law provisions.

Unfortunately, after the tragic events in Newtown, Conn., late last year, board members and other school and community officials must take a close look at security, student discipline, and mental health issues. District policies should be considered for possible changes and additions to ensure student and staff are safe while in school.

School board members can reduce their exposure to liability — and perform their functions more effectively — by periodically reviewing the statutory and policy provisions that establish their authority and responsibilities. This is time well spent, and can be incorporated into the board’s annual schedule of agenda items.

Erin Walsh|April 15th, 2013|Categories: NSBA Annual Conference 2013, School Law, School Security|Tags: , |

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: , , , , , , , |

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: , , , , , , , , |

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: , , , , , |
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