Ask the Experts: What Journalists Should Know about School Safety

Apologies for falling off the blog wagon once again. Today I will finally conclude my posts about the Education Writers Association National Seminar’s presentations. As I mentioned previously, I try to develop a schedule ahead of time for much of the conference. But I do like to leave a little room for spontaneity which was a good decision in this case. After having lunch with three very interesting people, I was convinced to attend their afternoon talk, “School Security-Inside or Out?”

The first speaker, Dr. Erroll Southers (TAL Global Corporation), noted that adequate school security needs to begin with an understanding that the landscape and the culture of schools has changed quite a bit over the years. He asserts that schools are a significant infrastructure in our country (as critical as a chemical or nuclear power plant) and thus should be looked at as a homeland security issue. Professionals should approach the issue of safe schools as a parent with school age children might, he stated. Other key points he made were:

  • The current trend is to overprotect schools. Instead of buying more expensive safety equipment, a realistic assessment of each school should be completed.
  • Rather than trying to implement a “district-wide plan, schools need to look at the landscape surrounding individual schools and get input from people like observant senior citizens or community police officers.
  • There are no permanent solutions to school violence. All we can do is reduce risk. We don’t need more firepower, we need access control to the buildings.
  • Our society can afford to deal with this. We have both the resources and ability, so we should just do it.

Kenneth Trump (National School Safety and Security Services) believes that America suffers from tunnel vision in that most people focus on “active shooters” when they should also be addressing everyday problems that lead to violence in schools like custodial parent issues. He added that there tends to be a skewed focus on school safety products instead of addressing the human aspect of unsafe schools. Several of his pet peeves include:

  • Too much “wow” and not enough “how” when trying to combat school violence
  • When the “school safety expert” label is applied too loosely
  • People who cite flawed federal school safety statistics as gospel
  • The big disconnect between school violence policy and practice

The third panelist was Ms. Robin Lambert (Rural School and Community Trust). She began by saying that most kids die in school-related violence because another kid got mad at them. For her the solution is two-pronged, strengthening relationships between students while simultaneously building stronger relationships between schools and communities. Some patterns she’s identified:

  • The violence was brought on by an impulse that could have passed given sufficient time and acknowledgement.
  • “Copycat”, regional outbreaks, or clusters of violent behavior occur, enabling kids to see violence as something both doable and possible
  • Urban/suburban solutions do not work with rural schools

All agreed that those in charge need to put resources where the rhetoric currently is and that the real challenge for reporters is to tell the story of school violence without glamorizing it or encouraging others to try it.

This was extremely valuable information to have. To think that I almost missed out on it! Next time you go to a conference step out of your comfort zone and try a different type of panel discussion.

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