The Importance of Mental Health in Comprehensive School Safety and Security Efforts

The Secure Schools Alliance, in cooperation with the Congressional School Safety Caucus, is co-hosting a briefing, “The Importance of Mental Health in Comprehensive School Safety and Security Efforts.” Partner organizations include Safe and Sound Schools, the National Association of School Psychologists, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and the Security Industry Association. The briefing will be held at 12 PM in Room 2212 of the Rayburn House Office Building.

To attend, please RSVP online by April 9.

“We must look at school health, safety and security holistically, as they are interconnected,” said Alliance Executive Director Robert Boyd. “Although the Alliance focuses on improving the physical security of K-12 schools, we are excited to join with our partners to brief the Congressional School Safety Caucus on the critical role mental health professionals play in our schools.”

The discussion will be led by Michele Gay, co-founder of Safe and Sound Schools and an Alliance Board Member. After losing her daughter, Josephine Grace, on December 14, 2012, she chose to take action as an advocate for improved school security and safety in our nation’s schools. Michele’s background as a teacher and involved parent, along with her personal loss and post-tragedy perspective, uniquely position her to help school communities prevent tragedy and better prepare and respond in an emergency in their own schools.

Other briefing participants include:

Edward A. Clarke: Chief Safety Officer for Montgomery County Public Schools, the largest school district in Maryland and 14th largest in the country. Prior to this position, Mr. Clarke served as the Executive Director of the Maryland Center for School Safety and played a key role in the passage of the comprehensive Maryland Safe to Learn Act of 2018. 

Dr. Kelly Vaillancourt Strobach: Nationally Certified School Psychologist and the Director of Policy and Advocacy at the National Association of School Psychologists. Prior to assuming this role, Dr. Strobach was a school psychologist in Loudoun County Public Schools, where she also served as a member of the District PBIS Coordination Team and the District Crisis Intervention Team. 

Dr. Christina Conolly, NCSP: Director for Psychological Services with the Montgomery County Public Schools in Rockville, MD. In this role, she also oversees the Signs of Suicide Prevention Program, Trauma-Informed Schools, and the Behavioral Threat Assessment initiatives. 

Paul Kelly: Principal of Elk Grove High School in Elk Grove Village, Illinois. In 2018, Mr. Kelly was named the Illinois High School Principal of the Year by the Illinois Principals Association and was selected by the National Association of Secondary School Principals as one of three finalists for 2019 National Principal of the Year. 

Benjamin S. Fernandez,MS Ed: School psychologist working as the Coordinator of Prevention Services for Loudoun County Public Schools, where he coordinates psychological services and division-wide mental health programs for general education and special education students. Mr. Fernandez also manages the coordination of crisis teams and is a PREPaRE master trainer. 

Download and share the briefing invitation (PDF) with your network. Join us!

About Safe and Sound Schools
Safe and Sound Schools works with school communities and mental health, law enforcement, and safety professionals to create and ensure the safest possible learning environment for all youth. The non-profit organization, started by parents who lost their children in the tragedy at Sandy Hook, delivers programs, tools, and resources, backed by national experts, to educate all members of the school community, from students and parents, to teachers and administrators, to law enforcement and local leaders.

About NASP
The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) represents more than 25,000 school psychologists, graduate students, and related professionals throughout the United States and 25 other countries. NASP works to advance effective practices to improve students’ learning, behavior, and mental health.

About NASSP
The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) is the leading organization for principals and other school leaders across the United States, seeking to transform education through school leadership.

About AASA
The School Superintendents Association (AASA) is the premier association for school system leaders and serves as the national voice for public education and district leadership on Capitol Hill.

About SIA
The Security Industry Association (SIA) is the leading trade association for global security solution providers, nearly 1,000 innovative member companies representing thousands of security leaders and experts who shape the future of the security industry.

Consider the Student Perspective in School Security

By Jake Glacer

A little more than a year ago, on February 14, 2018, I experienced a mass shooting firsthand inside room 1213 at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Since then, new security measures have been put in place at my high school, but from a student’s perspective, there is a long way to go. The lesson is not necessarily that Stoneman Douglas needs to do a better job of securing its campus (it does), but also, that all schools need to listen to student input and feedback when implementing school safety plans.

This is important because what is intended is not always the reality.

At Stoneman Douglas, nothing has really changed. When we started the school year, there were 18 security guards, including school police officers and campus monitors. One of their tasks is to check everyone’s student or teacher ID card at one of several entrances before they are allowed inside. It seems like a good idea, but the reality is that IDs are not always checked and this lackluster approach leaves us with many vulnerabilities and a false sense of security.

When I drive into school, myself and everyone in my car must show a guard our IDs. There have been many times when I drove past guards who seemed uninterested in whether we were actually students who belonged at the school. I have forgotten my ID from time to time, and the guard always lets me through the gate to get a new one from the front office. What is the purpose of having the guard checking IDs if I can get into the parking lot without an ID?

The entrance I use to get into school has lately been better guarded, as they placed a new campus monitor who looks at each and every individual’s ID. But this wasn’t always the case, and it’s not the case elsewhere on the campus. At an event after school, for example, we needed our IDs to get through the nearest gate. I was with three friends, and two of them did not have their IDs. My friend and I who did walked in, went to another entrance that was completely unguarded and unlocked it to let our two friends in.

Another major problem that still has not been addressed is checking backpacks. Stoneman Douglas implemented clear backpacks for a short period after the shooting, and it came with a lot of backlash from students and parents. Over the last year, friends and I have been able to walk past guards at entrances while carrying large bags that are supposed to be inspected. In one example, my friend was bringing in a large bag of supplies for a project. We both walked right into school and past two guards who didn’t say a word.

When the shooting happened in 2018, my school had no protocol in place for such an event. It made a chaotic event even more chaotic. Now there are designated safe corners in all of the classrooms, and students know where to go in an emergency. But at the same time, in the new portable classroom buildings, there is nowhere to hide. There is a window on each side, one of them being big enough to view the entire classroom from outside. Sitting in one of these classrooms, I question every single day (and so do the teachers) why nothing has been done to make these new classrooms safer.

This kind of activity has been going on ever since February 14. There are more people around the school but not much more security. It seems to me this is more of a human error than a security error. And this is the main concern I have with the future development of school security.

In a school that has experienced a mass shooting, you would think that security would be much more important, more thought through and more consistently applied. So how much more lax is security at schools that have not experienced mass violence? And more troubling, are schools even aware whether their school safety measures are actually being implemented?

Deciding how to secure a school campus is only the first step in making a school safer. The next step is ensuring those security measures are actually being used. That takes monitoring and feedback over time, and all schools need to proactively and regularly talk with the people most affected by school security: the students and teachers.

Jake Glacer is a senior at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.