School safety – what teachers tell us about your kid’s school

by Jim Irvine

Saturday, December 14, 2013 marks the one year anniversary since a coward murdered his mother, stole her gun and her car, then drove to Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, where he brutally murdered his mother, six school employees and 20 innocent children before committing suicide.

Buckeye Firearms Foundation recently surveyed school employees to find out what has changed in the year since the Newtown killings. As we have already reported, our survey found that nearly two dozen Ohio schools have authorized individuals such as teachers, administrators and parents to carry firearms in schools. There has been enormous progress toward protecting our kids from mass killings at schools, but not all districts are taking your kids safety and security seriously.

The following information is taken from a survey with over 300 responses. This is not scientific, as the pool questioned is not random. They are all people who applied to be trained to carry firearms in schools. Still, their answers give reason to not only to rejoice at the progress in the past year, but also frustration at how reckless some districts are with your kids lives.

Studies say that school is the safest place your child spends time. Fewer children die in schools than in cars, or homes or playing in the street. Schools are safe. But kids spend a lot of time in school, so we need to make it as safe as possible. Of all the ways kids die in schools, violence is the number one cause of death. Children are more likely to die from violence than all other causes of death in school combined. So it is a problem that must be addressed.

When asked if they ever had a concern about someone in or at their school, 20% responded "Yes. One time." Another 31% responded "Yes. More than once." That is a lot of potential problems that your school board, mental health professionals and law enforcement need to be addressing. We'll examine what happens when these concerns are raised in a minute.

We asked what schools have done in the past year to improve safety, and the response was mostly positive. 74% had meetings with law enforcement and 56% had meetings with staff. 38% met with other experts and 45% indicated their district made capital improvement in locks, windows, cameras or security barriers. 33% said their district "changed policies that I believe significantly improve safety/security." Those numbers indicate that significant progress has been made.

But there is another side to this coin.

38% of responders said that, "My district had changed policies, but I don't believe they will adequately prevent/stop a killer." That number is probably higher a random poll would return because of the biased pool of responders, but there is no denying that too many schools are not taking safety seriously.

Attorney General Mike DeWine produced a three hour DVD and sent it to every school district in Ohio. It did not discuss arming staff, but contained much valuable information on preventing and dealing with active killers. Sadly less than 16% of responders say their district shared this critical information with teachers. Over 20% of responders indicated their district had done nothing to improve safety or security in their school this year.

One of the critical reconditions on the DVD was that schools should have a single person to whom teachers, parents and kids should report concerns about a specific individual. Two thirds of responders say their school has such a person, but sadly one third reported that they don't. If you don't know who that person is at your school, ask. If your district does not have such a person, make them assign someone. It could be the principal, the SRO, the gym teacher or a parent, as long as there is one person that everyone knows to go to with safety concerns.

The greatest success story is not the killing that is stopped quickly; it is the event that never happens. Failing to take basic steps to identify and help someone before they commit a violent event is inexcusable.

Getting back to our responders who said they have had real concern about someone in or at their school, 53% said, "The situation required minor intervention, and was resolved." 8% said, "The situation required major/law enforcement intervention and was resolved."

Obviously those are the two outcomes we want, but what about the rest of the cases?

6% said no one did anything and another 22% said they were given only lip service. In our tiny sample, there are 5 situations (3%) that are still ongoing. From mass shootings to the Oklahoma bombing to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, there were clues leading up to the event, but there was not enough action on those clues to prevent the tragedy from happening. One wonders how many events are in the planning stages right now, and why schools are not doing a better job addressing these serious issues.

Only 9% of responders said their school was very safe and able to deal with any likely scenario. Those results are probably skewed because of our biased sample of people who put a lot of thought into security, but still overstates the readiness of our schools to deal with violence. 40% said their schools are mostly safe. 23% think their schools are mostly safe, but "only because there is not a likelihood of violence at my school." My guess is that most parents and teachers at Sandy Hook felt the same way about their school the morning of the massacre.

Of greater concern is that 23% of respondents "feel vulnerable" and indicate their school should be doing a lot more regarding safety. Another 4% said their school is "unsafe" and their administration "does not take security seriously."

On Monday, December 9, the Columbus Dispatch published an article entitled, "Are Ohio Students safe at school?" They found 166 schools buildings that are not incompliance with a requirement to submit a school safety plan to the State Attorney General's office. Others have submitted plans that are poor or incomplete.

As active killer expert Lt. Col. Dave Grossman says, "Denial has no survival value." There are a lot of good neighbors and friends and even teachers who are in denial about violence and school safety. They can still be good friends and teachers. But if your administration is in denial, they are not doing their job. They are failing your kids and must be replaced. Teachers often fear repercussions from bringing up sensitive issues. Their paycheck is dependent on working with their bosses.

Parents are in a different situation. The school board, superintendent and other schools officials work for you. They are the ones who should feel uncomfortable if your concerns are not being met. The school is obligated to keep your children safe. It is the parents duty to make sure their school officials are doing everything they can to meet that obligation.

Jim Irvine is the Buckeye Firearms Foundation President, and recipient of the NRA-ILA's 2011 "Jay M. Littlefield Volunteer of the Year Award" and the CCRKBA's 2012 "Gun Rights Defender of the Year Award."

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