Articles tagged with Sandy Hook Elementary

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: , , , , , |

Secretary Duncan addresses school board members at NSBA meeting

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan urged school board members Monday at NSBA’s Federal Relations Network (FRN) meeting in Washington, D.C., to “stay the course” through a tumultuous time in public education, predicting that in a few years the nation will see big results from programs such as Race to the Top (RTTT) and the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

“The implementation of Common Core is really difficult,” Duncan said. “It’s going to take a lot of hard work, and I really urge you to stay the course.”

However, he added: “I think the back-end of all this – three or four years from now – the country’s going to be in a radically different place.”

Duncan spoke briefly, but quickly and emphatically. He praised school board members for their dedication, and gave out his email address, saying he wanted to hear their concerns. In a short question and answer period, skeptical board members raised concerns about the proliferation of charter schools; unfunded federal mandates; competitions for funding, such as RTTT (the questioner said dedicated funding made more sense); and what many saw as an erosion of local control.

“This is a tough crowd,” the education secretary quipped at one point.

One requirement for states receiving funds has been a lifting of state caps on the number of charter schools. But Duncan said he didn’t favor charters over regular public schools.

“I’m just a big proponent of high-quality public schools,” Duncan said. “That’s traditional schools. That’s magnet schools. And that may be charter schools.”

Speaking of the achievement gap, Duncan said, “In some places we’re seeing real progress, but in other places these gaps are extraordinarily large.”

But Melinda Bernard, a board member for the St. Charles Parish Public Schools in Louisiana, said the problems of public school are being exaggerated.

“I think you will agree, public education’s being denigrated by the media recently,” Bernard told Duncan. “Especially our teachers.”

Duncan touted some of the Obama administration’s accomplishments, including an additional $600 million for early childhood education and an increase in the number of Pell Grants from 6 million in 2008 to 10 million last year. He said the $4 billion in competitive grants for RTTT may seem like a large number, but is less than 1 percent of the department’s $650 billion budget. He said that competition has spurred states to make major innovations regarding the common core, teacher evaluation, and other challenges.

Speaking of the recent shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Duncan said the Obama administration has “huge support for the Second Amendment,” but added, “I do feel that if we don’t act now as a country, we will never act.”

A former school superintendent for the Chicago Public Schools, Duncan said he was acquainted with the problem of violence, particularly in inner-city neighborhoods.

“We lost one child every two weeks due to the gang problem,” Duncan said. “It was a staggering loss.”

Lawrence Hardy|January 28th, 2013|Categories: Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Federal Programs, FRN Conference 2013, Governance, National Standards, Preschool Education, School Security|Tags: , , , , |

School board associations help in times of crisis

Robert J. Rader, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE), was having lunch with a friend when he heard the news about Newtown.

“You feel it emotionally. You feel it physically,” Rader said Saturday at NSBA’s Leadership Conference’s Second General Session on serving your members in times of crisis. “That changed everything.”

Except, of course, the duty of CABE to do everything it could to support Newtown’s schools and its member districts across the state. School board members usually think that student achievement is their highest calling, Rader said. But crises like the one in Newtown remind us that securing the well-being of students is a prerequisite, the number one job.

The shootings happened on a Friday; by Saturday night, Rader and his staff had posted information for school board members on how to try to prevent such as tragedy, and how to deal with shootings and the aftermath.

Rader was joined in the Saturday session by Michael Waldrop, executive director of the Mississippi School Boards Association, and Lawrence Feinsod, executive director of the New Jersey School Boards Association.

The devastation of Hurricane Katrina is still very much in Waldrop’s mind. While New Orleans got the most attention, little Bay Saint Louis, on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, was “ground zero” for the storm, which pushed 12-foot tide surges as far as 12 miles inland.

“And when it went out to the Gulf of Mexico, it carried everything with it,” Waldrop said.

Throughout the region, homes and many schools were reduced to mere slabs. “How do we start school when we don’t even have buildings?” – that was the refrain of some superintendents.

The association responded by contacting makers of modular units, as well as tent venders, and distributed the information to all affected school districts so overwhelmed officials wouldn’t have to do that research themselves. The association opened a trust fund to buy relief supplies. A modest $150,000 was collected, but that money went far.

“We’re trying to set our office up. We need 20 computers,” one superintendent told Waldrop, and he said. ”The next day they had 20 computers.”

New Jersey sustained $37 billion in damage from Superstorm Sandy last fall. Even the school boards association had to close for five days because it was without power, Feinsod said. When it was up and running, he added, “we knew we had to do something, and we had to do it quickly.”

Over the course of 72 hours, Feinsod and his staff contacted all 586 school districts in the state, a mammoth undertaking that got results.

“One group reached out to us in this very complex state,” one school official told Feinsod. “And it was the school boards association.”

Lawrence Hardy|January 26th, 2013|Categories: Board governance, Crisis Management, Governance, Leadership Conference 2013, State School Boards Associations|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: , , , , , , , , |

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 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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