A Comprehensive Approach to Safe Schools

School safety is important everywhere

The effort to make our schools and communities safer requires a comprehensive approach. Arming educators or even simply adding an armed school resource officer (SRO) is not an effective solution. NEA President Lily Eskelsen García recently reaffirmed that NEA leaders believe the nation needs real gun-safety legislation.

Schools must also focus on better meeting the social, emotional and developmental needs of our students, and identifying and addressing mental health issues as early as possible, through effective interventions and proper referral for services. This includes greater access to school-based health and mental health services, school counselors, school social workers and school psychologists. These skilled professionals work not only with the students, but with the teachers and staff who benefit from their ongoing consultation and guidance.

An NEA member-written report, “Sensible Solutions for Safe Schools,” contains recommendations for producing safe and secure learning environments for all students. The VIVA (Voice Ideas Vision Action) NEA Idea Exchange writing collaborative identified five central issues and corresponding solutions that seem most critical to increasing the safety of our schools and our children:

  1. Changing curriculum and school culture
  2. Addressing mental illness
  3. Improving building security
  4. Connecting schools and their communities
  5. Dealing with guns in schools

In developing these solutions, the writers agreed that, “Arming personnel is a difficult, controversial and emotionally charged issue, with strong opinions on both sides of the debate.”

In 2013, in the aftermath of Newtown, Conn., state lawmakers in legislatures nationwide introduced more than 30 bills designed to allow school personnel or volunteers to carry firearms—with six states passing such legislation. Both the NEA and the AFT have taken a stand on this issue.

“Guns have no place in our schools, period,” says NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “Lawmakers at every level of government should dismiss this dangerous idea and instead focus on measures that will create the safe and supportive learning environments our children deserve.” Read the full statement here.

Guns are dangerous in schoolsOnly 22 percent of NEA members polled favor a proposal to allow teachers and other school employees to receive firearms training and allow them to carry firearms in schools, while 68 percent oppose this proposal, including 61 percent who strongly oppose it.

NEAToday reinforced the organizations’ position. “Countless law enforcement and school safety experts believe schools that arm their staff are inviting an unacceptable level of risk. Guns could be secured by students, or a manageable situation could easily turn deadly, for example. Proponents argue that staff would undergo extensive training to avoid these kinds of incidents, but critics respond that educators aren’t in school to be armed guards and no amount of training is going to change that.”

NEA will continue to promote comprehensive and positive approaches to safe and healthy schools, including having emergency management and crisis response plans in place. NEA commends the Obama Administration for releasing an updated Guide for Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operations Plans. This guide complements the recommendations and resources put forth in NEA Healthy Futures’ School Crisis Guide. NEA highlights these resources and reinforces the involvement of the entire school community here.

filed under: Crisis and Prevention, School Safety

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Libby Nealis

Written by Libby Nealis

Libby Nealis is a senior program coordinator at NEA Healthy Futures. She is passionate about addressing children’s mental health and behavioral needs as an effective means of improving student academic achievement and potential for life success. She closely follows federal education and mental health policy, and increases awareness and support for services that promote social-emotional development and resilience in youth. When she’s not juggling her work and her own three children, she sings in a progressive rock cover band with fellow neighbors and PTA parents.

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