Education Week - June 20, 2018 - 28
WE MUST DO BETTER BY OUR
MOST VULNERABLE CHILDREN
LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Melody Newcomb for Education Week
CURB TEEN SUICIDE?
School Safety Belongs to All of Us
By Michele Gay & Alissa Parker
hough more than five years have passed
since we lost our daughters, Josephine and
Emilie, in the Sandy Hook tragedy, school
violence still cuts to our cores. Our hearts
break for everyone affected by this year's
school shootings, and we understand the
frustration and helplessness the rest of
the country feels. Parents, students, educators, and the community are not just sitting targets,
though. All of us can change the conversation and take control in our own schools to improve the state of school safety.
When we founded the nonprofit Safe and Sound Schools,
we focused our mission on comprehensive school safety:
crisis prevention, response, and recovery for every student
and every school. We bypassed the emotional lightening
rod of politics and gun legislation, and instead have focused
on providing free programs, resources, and tools school
communities can use to take action-immediately-to address safety in their own schools.
As we approached the five-year milestone of our organization's inception, we wanted to provide another
useful, practical tool. We chose to help schools start the
school safety process by gaining insight into the state of
campus safety. If we don't have a good handle on what
is going on, how can we really address it?
Earlier in 2018, we launched a nationwide survey to
measure perceptions and opinions about school safety
preparedness, resources, expertise, and improvement
opportunities. We heard from more than 2,800 respondents, including parents, middle and high school students, educators, and the general public.
After analyzing the data with input from our network
of national experts, schools, students, mental-wellness
professionals, public safety officials, and parents, we published the first "State of School Safety" report.
Intended to help communities identify opportunities for
improving school safety, the report reflects a climate of anxiety, fear, and frustration. However, we also learned that
the people who matter most aren't necessarily being heard.
As we head into summer, it is the perfect time to plan improved communication within your communities and include all stakeholders once school is back in session. Based
on what we learned, those involved in education need to:
●* Repair the communication gap between educators and other stakeholders, particularly parents
and students. Our survey found educators are more
informed and confident in their preparedness and ability to handle a wide array of safety threats than other
survey respondents. While we are happy to see educators informed, we were disheartened to see parents and
students paint a different picture. They report a lack of
communication between educators, students, and parents.
It does not have to be this way. Communication can help bring to light vulnerabilities,
identify solutions, expedite implementation
of safety initiatives, and reduce anxiety associated with not knowing.
●* Address student dissatisfaction
with current safety conversations and
actions at their schools. Only half of the
students surveyed feel safe at school. More
than half of students surveyed think there is
a lack of awareness about school safety and
their school has a false sense of security. While
the timing of the survey-soon after the school
shooting in Parkland, Fla.-may contribute
to these attitudes, the overall perceptions are in line with
feedback we have heard from students for years. Adults in
the community need to start asking why students feel this
way-and listen to the answers. Students have social connections and information helpful for protecting our schools.
We need to give students a seat at the table.
●* Broaden our current narrow view of safety
threats and gain more input from the entire school
community. While active shooters certainly (and rightfully) weigh heavily on our minds, the threats facing schools
today are far more broad and frequent. Respondents have
faced much higher incidences of bullying, physical abuse,
suicide, racially or minority focused vandalism, and dangerous weather than other safety incidents. It's critical we
prioritize these threats as well. Experts in mental health
and wellness, school resource officers, public safety officials,
students, parents, and school-based teachers and staff are
all needed to evaluate what is working-and what is not-
in school safety. Then we can work on mitigation, prevention, and de-escalation of safety threats.
28 | EDUCATION WEEK | June 20, 2018 | www.edweek.org/go/commentary
* Dive deeper into the distinct challenges of
smaller schools. Educators at schools with fewer than
500 students report that students feel safe at school at a
higher rate than their peers at larger schools. Yet, these
schools have lower response rates relating to knowledge
of a school safety team or a school resource officer. In addition, educators at smaller schools expressed twice the need
for school safety funding than schools with more than 500
students. We need to better understand and address the
challenges facing these smaller schools and give them the
resources they need to protect their students.
School safety is not one person's responsibility; it belongs to all of us. There is no one-sizefits-all approach, but everyone can use this report to drive conversations and make progress
toward increasing school safety.
Administrators can dive more deeply to
study the state of school safety in their own
communities to prioritize areas of vulnerability and bring in more experts to the conversation. School leaders can strengthen our
human and capital financial resources by communicating more with parents, engaging them
to fundraise for specific training or programs,
and bringing students into the conversation. Policymakers
should play closer attention to these issues, allocating funding and resources to combat the safety blind spots.
The "State of School Safety" report further identifies the
undercurrent of frustration students, parents, educators,
and the general public feel about the state of school safety
in their communities. But, we have power-the power to
be informed, to drive discussions, and to take action to
improve the safety of our students every day. n
of the students
MICHELE GAY is a mother, former teacher, and one of the
founders of Safe and Sound Schools. She is an advocate for
improved security and safety in the nation's schools after losing
her daughter, Josephine Grace, on Dec. 14, 2012, during the
Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy. ALISSA PARKER is
a nationally recognized expert on school safety. She has been
speaking to school communities, at educational leadership events,
and to top news sources across the United States, following
the death of her daughter, Emilie Parker, in the Sandy Hook
Elementary School shootings.