School safety is a collaborative issue

By guest blogger Curtis S. Lavarello, Executive Director, School Safety Advocacy Council, www.SCHOOLSAFETY911.org

 As many school budgets across the nation seem to fall victim to reductions, the issue of how much school security is enough is often the focus of town hall and school board meetings, especially following publicized critical incidents that lead to the death and/or injury of a student. While one can certainly look at the many physical features and available gadgetry that make up security initiatives, parents should know that there is an often overlooked issue in keeping children safe, that of COMMON SENSE. 

When I served on many post-Columbine High School review committees and studied a number of other school-related tragedies across the nation, one thing that became crystal clear was the fact that many schools and school districts had both fragmented training and responses as it related to tragic events that occurred at or around schools. 

There was also a fair amount of finger-pointing going on with many trying to find someone who could ultimately be held accountable for what had occurred. I recall, in one instance, a local police chief telling me that he wasn’t concerned with a particular school system’s crisis plan as his agency developed its own.  He went on to say that in the event of a school incident, his plan would take precedent. Ironically, the local fire department also had its own response plan, which differed from the school and police department plans, and the fire department indicated that its plan would be the one used. While this scenario may seem farfetched, it’s actually more common than one thinks. 

Following many of the school tragedies of the 90s, in Paducah, Ky., Pearl, Miss., Springfield, Ore., and other places, we as a nation have done much better to prevent and head off a great many incidents that very easily could have been the CNN story of the day. Part of the strategy that has been most effective is to understand that these unfortunate incidents are not only part of a school issue but a much more broad community issue.  In my speaking travels, I remind community leaders that the school is often just a microcosm of the entire community, and if the community has a substance abuse, firearm, or bullying issue, it is likely to be present in that community’s schools.  The sooner schools and communities recognize this, the sooner many of the stakeholders can begin to wrap their arms around the issues and actually reduce negative behaviors. 

We often recommend that stakeholders must come from all aspects of our community including law enforcement (and other first responders), local business leaders, the faith-based community, health departments, media, parents, media, and, yes, even our youth. These stakeholders can oftentimes outline the specific needs to address issues and draft collaborative responses and plans to reduce issues from occurring.

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